March 23, 2009
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) - This truly will be the last home game for Maryland seniors Kristi Toliver and Marissa Coleman, the lone members of the winningest class in school history.
Their names and jersey numbers were hung from the rafters at the Comcast Center last month on Senior Day during an emotional ceremony before the Terrapins' regular-season finale. Toliver and Coleman have already done plenty for the program, but their work at Maryland is not complete.
The duo is chasing down another national championship, a quest that resumes Tuesday night when top-seed Maryland hosts No. 9 Utah in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
"More than anything, I'm worried about getting a big banner up there to go up with the '06 one. That's my focus right now," Coleman said.
Coleman and Toliver were freshmen when the Terrapins won the school's first NCAA title. Since their arrival, Maryland has compiled an astonishing 124-18 record, including 29-4 this season.
The 6-foot-1 Coleman ranks second in school history in points (2,131) and rebounds (1,092). She was the MVP of 2009 Atlantic Coast Conference tournament after leading the Terrapins to their first league title in 20 years.
Toliver, a 5-7 guard, is Maryland's career assist leader with 740 and has scored 25, 24 and 27 points in her past three games. In the NCAA tournament opener Sunday, she had as many points at halftime as Dartmouth (23).
Utah's top priority will be trying to contain Toliver and Coleman, whose combined scoring average of 36.1 points is more than the Utes (23-9) allowed to Villanova in an opening round 60-30 win.
"They're really a good 1-2 punch," Utah forward Kalee Whipple said. "I think our goal is to just contain Toliver and Coleman. They're so good that you're not going to completely shut them down."
When Utah faced Maryland in the 2006 NCAA tournament, Toliver scored 28 and Coleman had eight points and 11 rebounds to lead the Terrapins to an overtime victory.
"Those kind of players will beat you with fantastic nights. If we can hold them to good nights, that's better than not," Utah coach Elaine Elliott said.
Elliott is wary of Coleman, but far more concerned about Toliver.
"She's the one that beat us three years ago," Elliott said. "They do what you should do: They give the ball to their best player and let her make plays, both for herself and everyone else on the team."
It isn't often that two stars get to play in a building where their jerseys hang from the rafters. But when Toliver and Coleman look at the ceiling of the Comcast Center, they usually stare first at the large white banner celebrating the 2006 national championship.
"It is special to see 20 and 25 while we're playing. Not a whole lot of people get to experience that," Toliver said. "But no doubt about it, the ultimate goal is to have another big banner up there."
Coleman and Toliver haven't lost a game at home since 2007, a run of 35 straight. They fully intend to leave with that streak intact.
"It's exciting to have my last home game be an NCAA tournament game. It's going to be a great environment," Coleman said.
Both seniors will receive the loudest cheers during introductions Tuesday night. They will be missed by Maryland fans, but no one will be sadder to see them go than coach Brenda Frese.
"I think the most special thing about both of them is who they are and who they've become, and that's two special players," Frese said. "They're the face of our program. What they mean to this program and community speaks volumes to what they done here."
Once they're done at Maryland, Coleman and Toliver should get the opportunity to win over a new cluster of fans.
"The season is going to come to a close at some point," Frese said, "but they've got a whole other chapter that's going to take place at the professional level. I've told them to just keep enjoying the time we have left."