- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2008

Kristi Toliver was equal parts anxiety and excitement yesterday morning. As the starting point guard and leading scorer on the Maryland women’s basketball team, she knew her play would be vital later in the day against Coppin State in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

“I woke up a little nervous — it was the start of a new season, it’s one-and-done for everybody and we know it,” she said. “It was only natural to have jitters.”

And then she ate something at breakfast that really gave her anxiety — in the form of the flu. But even with a detour to the locker room in the second half, Toliver played on, helping Maryland overcome a ragged first half to dispatch Coppin State 80-66 at Comcast Center.

Crystal Langhorne led the Terps with 25 points and 12 rebounds, and Toliver had a solid floor game — 13 points, seven rebounds and seven assists — despite admitting to feeling less than full strength.

“I was a step slower just thinking about not getting sick on the floor,” said Toliver, who also had seven turnovers. “But I fought through some stuff and some adversity, but it wasn’t a big deal.”

Maryland finally asserted itself early in the second half, using a 10-0 run to take a 14-point lead.

“We had a sense of urgency in the first half,” junior Marissa Coleman said. “We just had turnovers that led to easy baskets for them, and our confidence went down the drain for a little while when that happened.”

Maryland (31-3), the top seed in the Spokane Region, will play No. 8 seed Nebraska (21-11) tomorrow at 9:30 p.m. The Cornhuskers moved on with a 61-58 win over Xavier.

The Terrapins won their fifth straight first-round game but want to atone for last year’s second-round meltdown against Mississippi.

“That’s all we’ve been talking about, getting out of College Park,” Coleman said. “If we get out of here, it’ll be a big relief and a big burden off our shoulders.”

Maryland’s burden against Coppin State was the super guard duo of Rashida Suber and Shalamar Oakley. They combined to score 45 points and hit 19 of their team’s 27 field goals and were the sole reason the Eagles had upset hopes as late as midway through the second half.

A 14-0 run early in the first half gave Coppin State confidence. A steady start to the second half gave them momentum, cutting the lead to 41-38.

Maryland’s game-turning run started with two free throws by Laura Harper at the 16:52 mark. A 3-pointer by Toliver, a sweet spin move by Langhorne and a 3-pointer by Ashleigh Newman made it 55-41 and ended the Eagles’ upset hopes.

After that, Coppin State got no closer than nine points.

“It started with our defense,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. “We lost some focus and some intensity. Coppin State was extremely quick and made some tremendous shots. We wanted to establish our presence again on the defensive end.”

In the second half, Oakley was limited to three of her 20 points and missed five of her six shots.

“We weren’t pleased with how many looks they were getting, and we talked at halftime about the pride we have as a team [defensively],” Frese said. “We made it much more difficult for her in the second half.”

Langhorne was the pacesetter offensively. She scored six points during a stretch in which Maryland extended its lead from four to 15 points. Langhorne went 8-for-11 from the line, and the Terps made 28 free throws compared with 10 for Coppin State.

Langhorne did most of her work without being double-teamed, an advantage she always will cash in on.

“They don’t do a lot of things, and they’re going to wear you down with talent,” Coppin State coach Derek Brown said. “We did a very good job defensively most of the game, but they really started to get the ball down low in the second half, and we don’t have the numbers [to match up].”

SEEN AND HEARD

It’s what the NCAA will face forever: When should the women’s tournament games be played? The organization wisely has stuck to its philosophy of allowing teams to play at home in the first two rounds. Maryland was designated as a host for the second time in four years, and the Terrapins kicked off the tournament with an 80-66 win over Coppin State.

Meanwhile, several monitors in the media work area were quickly turned to the Arkansas-North Carolina men’s game. And rightly so.

Currently, the women’s second-round and regional final games and the national championship won’t go up against the men. But by the second week of April, even the most diehard hoops fan is burned out and might turn it to baseball.

How about starting the tournament a week before the men? Have the national title game on the Tuesday before the Final Four. That would create some buzz and also eliminate the two weeks off that teams like Maryland have before the NCAAs because the conference doesn’t want the men and women playing at the same time. …

Nebraska won the day’s first game 61-58 over Xavier. Whenever the Cornhuskers take the field or floor, it means a visit by my favorite all-time mascot — Lil’ Red. Think of it as a giant bobble-head, bouncing around the floor, kicking up its heels, having a great time. I love that little guy. …

Coppin State wins Best Band by a landslide among all the schools at Verizon Center and Comcast Center this weekend. Great stuff. They also provided the most basic homemade sign of the week when Maryland was shooting free throws: “MISS IT.”

Ryan O’Halloran

SCOREBOARD

UP — CRYSTAL LANGHORNE

With her team struggling, the Maryland All-American center posted 14 of her 25 points and eight of her 12 rebounds in the second half.

DOWN — MARYLAND’S TURNOVERS

The Terps committed 16 in the game, which included several sloppy first-half plays that resulted in Coppin State buckets.

EVEN — MARYLAND BENCH

The Terps got 10 points from their bench, further illustrating their lack of depth. If Maryland plays a closely officiated game and gets in foul trouble, it will be in trouble.

BY THE NUMBERS

36.7

Points on average by which MEAC teams lost their previous 14 first-round games before Coppin State’s 14-point loss to Maryland.

QUOTABLE

“That’s all we’ve been talking about, getting out of College Park. If we get out of here, it’ll be a big relief and a big burden off our shoulders.”

— Maryland junior Marissa Coleman on the Terrapins advancing past the first weekend

PLAYERS OF THE DAY

Coppin State guards Rashida Suber and Shalamar Oakley. The dynamic duo scored their team’s first 27 points and ended with 45 of Coppin State’s 66 points.

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