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Maryland seniors Marissa Coleman and Kristi Toliver first mentioned their desire in October, and it remained a constant theme throughout the regular season. They represent the last of the group that won the program's first national championship, set school records and peppered All-America teams.
But the two stars had an important omission from their successful careers.
"[An ACC tournament title is] definitely something we wanted to have on our resume when we headed out of here," Coleman said.
Winning Maryland's first ACC title in 20 years was more than a personal feat for the Terps' seniors. It was the continuation of the team playing its best basketball. The Terps, winners of 12 straight, haven't lost since Jan. 30.
Still, the ACC tournament had long been vexing for Maryland - or any program outside of North Carolina for that matter. Either Duke or North Carolina had won the event each year since 2000, so the Terps felt they had something to prove going in.
"We still had doubters during the ACC season," Coleman said. "We lost one to Virginia, and we let one slip against Duke, but I think we made a strong statement being able to beat Duke and Carolina in [North] Carolina with all their fans. I think that alone should say a lot - they're pretty much home games for them."
Coleman and Toliver dominated in Maryland's last nine regular-season games, particularly against Duke and Boston College, when they combined for 58 and 59 points, respectively. Opponents have started to defend the first-team All-ACC pair more aggressively, so last weekend redshirt freshman Kim Rodgers' removed any doubt about the Terps' bench production.
Rodgers was an All-American in high school but missed all of last season with a torn ACL in her right knee. She worked herself back into game shape as the season progressed and displayed her shooting touch at critical times over the weekend. She had 11 points, including three 3-pointers, against North Carolina and followed that up with 12 points on 4-for-5 shooting against Duke.
Sophomore Marah Strickland (against Duke) and freshman Lynetta Kizer (against North Carolina), both starters, also scored in double figures over the weekend to a remind opponents the Terps' offense is more than a two-person show.
"This team is extremely confident right now," Coleman said. "Duke came in on a hot streak and was playing really well in the ACC tournament. For us to be able to beat them in the fashion we did, having a lot of young players step up big for us, that alone has given [our underclassmen] a lot of confidence."
The Terps have all but guaranteed themselves a top seed in the NCAA tournament and appear to be peaking at the right time. There's a good feeling within the team this week as they spend a few days off before starting to prepare for their first-round game in College Park.
"I'm really confident going into the tournament," Coleman said. "I think we have a strong chance to make it to the Final Four and win another national championship. We're just going to have to use these two weeks to prepare and go from there."
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