Marissa Coleman and Kristi Toliver are women on a mission.
Their quest to bring home the Atlantic Coast Conference title got a little easier with today’s 95-84 win in Greensboro, N.C.
If you like the run-and-gun style offense, then this game was a must-see affair.
No. 1 Maryland (27-4) rebounded from a near-upset by the Wake Forest Demon Deacons with a balanced team effort against the No. 4 North Carolina Tar Heels (26-6).
Coleman led all scorers with a dominant 29-point performance.
Toliver was no slouch either, pouring in 25 points of her own, as these fearless ladies scored 54 of their team’s total points.
ACC freshman of the year Lynetta Kizer finished with 15 points, and Kim Rodgers scored 11 points.
Maryland had four players score in double figures.
The Atlantic Coast Conference tournament has been North Carolina’s baby, especially when held in Greensboro.
Chapel Hill is less than an hour’s drive from the Coliseum.
North Carolina has advanced to the final round in eight of the previous nine tournaments.
They have knocked Maryland out two out of the last three years.
The last four championships have been awarded to the Tar Heels.
Maryland is on a winning streak too.
They have won 11 straight games, last losing to Virginia in Charlottesville.
That loss seems so insignificant, now that the Terrapins are one game away from securing their first ACC title in 20 years.
The Terps are hungry.
And their enthusiastic fans were ready to make some noise.
Twenty minutes before tip-off, Maryland’s players ran onto the court to loud cheers.
They gathered at mid-court to dance around the ACC logo.
North Carolina fans bristled at the bold display of confidence Maryland brought to the southern but northern tip of their territory.
Confidence helps build team unity.
Maryland has every right to feel good about their chances tomorrow.
They await either the second-seeded Florida State Seminoles or third-seeded Duke.
Sunday’s final is set for 1 p.m.
Maryland started the game off with an intense focus.
They built an early 21-8 lead, but North Carolina answered this challenged and rallied back in the game.
This was a physical matchup.
Both teams were called for a combined 23 personal fouls in the game’s first 20 minutes.
Maryland’s Kizer, forward Dee Liles, and guard Marah Strickland had two fouls apiece by the end of the first half.
By the game’s final 90 seconds, Toliver and Coleman were accompanied by three freshmen.
Kim Rodgers and Anjale Barrett rarely played during the regular season.
Same story goes for raw freshman center Yemi Oyefuwa.
But there they were, trying to fend off the experienced Tar Heels at the game’s most critical stage.
Maryland has so many weapons to aim at an opponent.
Shutting down Toliver and Coleman only allows for another girl to step up her game.
These three wunderkinds outscored the Heels 8-0.
They did not allow UNC to score during their run.
Rodgers was not anticipated to be a factor in post-season play.
She was nursing a severe knee injury that occurred last season, and was not in game shape.
Or so I thought.
She hit back-to-back three-pointers to give Maryland a 44-38 halftime advantage.
Maryland increased their lead to 52-40, after Toliver fed Kizer for a lay-up with 17:34 seconds remaining.
North Carolina battled back once again.
Junior Jessica Breland countered with a sweet long-range jumper, and singularly kept her team from getting blitzed off the court.
The 6-foot-3 forward made two more buckets to make Maryland work for the “W.”
North Carolina gained a 62-61 lead when Rashanda McCants (sister of Rashad McCants, former UNC men’s basketball star) sparked an 8-0 run.
She made a series of soft jumpers to put the Tar Heels ahead with 13:49 left in regulation.
Following a steal from UNC, Italee Lucas made one of two free throws.
UNC was on top by two points.
Then Toliver and Coleman said “we’re not going to it anymore.”
The Terrapins scored 11 straight points off the outstanding pressure from their dynamic seniors.
Coleman found her self wide open, and nailed an open three-pointer.
Toliver stole the ball and trotted up the court on the next possession.
With 8:41 on the clock, Coleman glided past her flat-footed defender and banked home a pretty one-handed shot off the glass.
Maryland led 72-63.
The Tar Heels closed the gap to 79-78 with 4:28 remaining.
They never got any closer.
The Terps were just too strong down the stretch.
Coleman and Toliver made 6-of-8 free throws to seal Maryland’s berth in the tournament final.
Brace yourself, folks.
The heat is on the Terps to finish this magical fairytale for themselves, and for the fans.
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