- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Maryland women’s basketball team has been in this position before. As a top-two seed in the NCAA tournament for a third consecutive season, the Terrapins are becoming perennial favorites.

In 2006, they won their first national championship. But last season, Mississippi upset Maryland in the second round. The humbling loss taught the Terps that looking past an opponent could lead to a quick exit from the 64-team field.

Now a year wiser, top-seeded Maryland is determined not to repeat last year’s blunder as it begins tournament play today against No. 16 Coppin State.

“This team has a great sense of pride and wants to come out and play every game at the highest level,” coach Brenda Frese said. “Obviously, we were very disappointed with last season and want to play to the best of our ability. Every round is difficult. You can’t take any team for granted, and we’ve got to come out and put 40 minutes together every time we step out on the floor.”

The Terps have the potential and talent to win another national championship this year. They feature four All-ACC performers, including two first-team selections and the conference player of the year in senior center Crystal Langhorne.

They boast experience with two seniors (Langhorne and Laura Harper) and two juniors (Kristi Toliver and Marissa Coleman) in the starting lineup, all four of whom started on the national championship team.

And they are used to winning, having ridden the one-game-at-a-time approach to a 30-3 record this season.

Just about the only hindrance for Maryland is an occasionally waning focus, which leads to defensive breakdowns and a propensity for turnovers. If it comes at the wrong time, the Terps could come home earlier than expected.

“It’s NCAA tournament time. Everybody is going to be playing their best basketball,” Coleman said. “We have to be prepared, whether we’re playing Coppin State or we make it to [Spokane, Wash.,] and play Stanford. No matter who we’re playing, we have to bring our ‘A’ game.”

Maryland sputtered in its last outing, a 74-63 loss to Duke in the ACC tournament semifinals. But two weeks have passed since, and Frese said the Terps have used the setback to remedy their deficiencies.

“It’s been tremendous for us to really just focus on us, on areas where we really feel like we need to improve the most,” she said. “To have that time to be able to refocus and rejuvenate ourselves after such a tough season with so many games, it’s been phenomenal for us.”

Maryland also can enjoy playing the first and, with a win today, second game of the tournament at Comcast Center. While the tournament relocates some teams all over the country, the Terps have taken advantage of staying at home.

And they likely will benefit from a partisan crowd, which they hope will help propel them to the Sweet 16 and beyond.

“Not making it out of the second round last year, it’s going to help us a lot this year being in our comfort zone,” Coleman said. “If we get past the second round, it’s going to be a big relief for us.”

Last year’s second-round loss, although demoralizing, proved a valuable lesson for the Terps.

“Now that we’re older and more mature, we see that talent doesn’t just win games,” Langhorne said. “You have to play hard and beat everybody on talent and energy.”

[1] Maryland (30-3) vs. [16] Coppin State (22-11)

2:30, ESPN, Comcast Center

Breaking down Maryland

The Terrapins are as talented as any team in the country. Their starting lineup features four of the 15 players on the three All-ACC teams: seniors Crystal Langhorne and Laura Harper and juniors Marissa Coleman and Kristi Toliver. All four average double figures in points, led by Toliver’s 16.8 a game. Langhorne, the ACC player of the year, pours in 16.7.

Because of their balance and versatility, Maryland is a handful for any defense. The Terps can score from inside or out, and they take advantage of their athleticism by running as much as they can. At their best, the Terps make their opponents try to match their uptempo style, forcing them into turnovers and quick shots. That fuels fast breaks and easy baskets for Maryland’s high-powered offense.

Breaking down Coppin State

Strong veteran perimeter play anchors Coppin State. Senior guards Rashida Suber and Shalamar Oakley are the top two Eagles in both scoring and minutes played. Suber, who leads the team in scoring (17.6), hit the game-winning shot against North Carolina A&T; in the MEAC tournament championship.

This is the Eagles’ third tournament appearance in four years. They have won 16 of their last 17 games and hope to improve upon their last tournament game against an ACC team, a 97-62 loss to North Carolina in 2005.

Matchup to watch

Maryland G Kristi Toliver vs. Coppin State G Shalamar Oakley:

Both are quick, athletic floor leaders who key their teams’ offenses. Oakley’s play will be critical for the Eagles. She earned the conference player of the year honors after scoring 17.4 points a game and leading the Eagles with 133 assists.

Prediction: The Terps will be too much to handle for the Eagles and will roll 85-63.