- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 29, 2008

[4] Vanderbilt (25-8) vs. [1] Maryland (32-3)

9 P.M., SPOKANE (WASH.) ARENA, ESPN

BREAKING DOWN VANDERBILT

Last year was supposed to be Vanderbilt’s time, but as the second seed the Commodores were bounced in the second round by Bowling Green. Two freshmen and three sophomores are a part of the regular rotation, and there’s only one senior on the roster. The early-season bumps included losses to Indiana State and home losses to Colorado and Old Dominion. Since Jan. 17, the Commodores are 0-3 vs. Tennessee, 13-0 vs. everybody else. Christina Wirth (13.1) and Liz Sherwood (11.0), lead the offense and the defense has forced teams into shooting an abysmal 36.3 percent this season.

“This is the best defensive team I’ve coached,” coach Melanie Balcomb said. “The advantage is that we know we need each other and there’s a sense of trust. What we like to do is play different defenses to keep teams off balance.”

BREAKING DOWN MARYLAND

Maryland was hot and cold in its opening-weekend wins over Coppin State and Nebraska. When the Terrapins needed a run, they often got it. When they needed to put a team away, they often struggled to do so. Several players said they felt the pressure playing on their home floor and expect to play better on the other side of the country. Three players are key: Crystal Langhorne (have to get her involved from the beginning), Marissa Coleman (has to continue to show aggressiveness on offense) and Kristi Toliver (must play under control even if the pace gets frenetic). Seniors Jade Perry and Ashleigh Newman will also be looked to provide solid minutes and production off the bench.

KEY MATCHUP

Vanderbilt F Christina Wirth vs. Maryland F Crystal Langhorne

Both players have height — Wirth is 6-1, Langhorne is 6-2. Both players have experience — Wirth has started 88 of 92 games, Langhorne 132 of 133. And both teams’ offenses start with them. Wirth is averaging a team-high 13.1 points, Langhorne paces Maryland with 17.1. The one player who can get established early, their team will have the edge. Ditto for the player who manages to stay out of foul trouble (although neither player has fouled out of a game this year).

Prediction: Although Vanderbilt is one of the best defensive teams in the country, Maryland — with four players averaging at least 14.3 points — will be too athletic and have too much firepower for the young Commodores to contain. Maryland 70-62.

Ryan O’Halloran

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