If Terrapins’ fans missed Maryland’s last tournament game against Vanderbilt in Raleigh, N.C., then shame on you.
The wild contest was a nail-biter from beginning to end.
Fabulous forward Marissa Coleman finished the game with a career-high 42 points and 15 rebounds, and the 78-74 victory was Maryland’s sixteenth win in a row, capping off another monster effort by a true leader in the locker room and on the basketball court.
If Maryland (31-4) is to advance to their third Final Four is four years, they will need to re-establish their offensive rhythm and protect the basketball.
Today, top-seeded Maryland is slated to hoop it up with fourth-seeded Louisville. In order to avoid the hole that they dug themselves into in the Vanderbilt game, Maryland must take high percentage shots, and get the ball inside more often against Louisville.
The secret is out—Seniors Kristi Toliver and Coleman are phenomenal players.
These athletic angels have bailed out their team countless times, but might be pushing their luck as the competition heats up in the southern region of the NCAA Tournament.
Coleman, however, remains confident her team is not becoming complacent with each win.
“The feelings that we have now are great. We’re so confident coming into this game,” said Coleman. “Even against [Vanderbilt] when we were down, I didn’t think we were going to lose. Kristi and I are so determined right now not to let our careers end. I don’t think there’s a coach in this country, honestly, that can devise a plan or can have some defensive strategy that can stop that because that’s all will and determination.”
Believing in yourself is a remarkable elixir when adversity comes knocking at your door.
Louisville forward Candace Bingham was sitting in the stands, and saw just how vital Marissa Coleman’s senior leadership is for her team.
“When they had a timeout, I saw her sitting on the coach’s stool, talking to the team,” said Bingham. “That tells you she was wanting her team to win really, really bad. She showed that in her performance, too. And why not? She’s a senior; she didn’t want it to be her last game.”
Louisville (32-4) also relies on a pair of determined seniors with excellent leadership skills. Bingham and Angel McCoughtry double-teamed second-seeded Baylor in a 56-39 victory on Saturday.
Bingham was the top-scorer for the Cardinals, and finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds. McCoughtry finished with 15 points and 15 rebounds.
The Cardinals used an 18-2 run over the last 8:50 of the game in which the duo combined for 11 points and seven rebounds.
The game was tight most of the way, until Louisville’s go-to-girls came up big at the perfect time.
McCoughtry has got roots to the metropolitan area. She is a Baltimore, Maryland native that decided to sign elsewhere, once Marissa Coleman chose Maryland over several other Division I programs.
She and Coleman are the post-season gems for their respective teams.
Coleman and McCoughtry are both 6'1" with offensive versatility. Coleman’s a hard girl to defend because she can take the ball off of an offensive rebound and go coast-to-coast in mere seconds.
Before an opponent can breathe, Maryland has established the game’s tempo.
McCoughtry is a gym rat, and she recently told Sports Illustrated, "On a scale of 1 to 10, I’m a 50."
Their competitive desires fuel the fire within them to keep moving forward.
Maryland is looking to be mentioned in the same breath as the great Tennessee teams of the mid 90’s.
Louisville, meanwhile, is the dark horse in the tournament that would love to upset a squad who hasn’t lost since early February.
The Terrapins are extremely deep, and with coach Brenda Frese’s guidance, have surpassed the expectations for a program that could have collapsed after the retirement of long-time play-caller Chris Weller.
Louisville is the underdog in this game and have never played in a regional final, and Coleman and Toliver are the lone ladies to have won a national title left in this year’s tournament.
“Here is the difference that I see in Marissa Coleman and Kristi Toliver this year, more than in the last two,” women’s college basketball national broadcaster Doris Burke said.
“There is a single-minded approach with both of them that seems to say, whether in body language, in words and attitude, and also translated to what they’re doing on the court, 'I will do whatever it takes to get myself to a national championship game'.”
With the Final Four looming ahead, will the Terrapins get their wish and move a step closer to perhaps one of the great all-time matchups against the undefeated Connecticut Huskies?
Or will the crafty Cardinals swoop down to steal one in Raleigh?
Prediction: Maryland 83, Louisville 71