- The Washington Times - Monday, March 23, 2009

Before top-seeded Maryland took the court Sunday at Comcast Center for its first-round game against No. 16 Dartmouth in the Raleigh Region of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, a wise guy at courtside remarked of the Terrapins, “They’ll be up by 20 points with seven minutes left in the half.”

It just shows you what overconfidence can do, on the floor or in the stands. At the appointed juncture, Maryland was ahead by merely 19. Not until the clock wound down to 2:52 did the Terps go ahead by a score, as Honest Abe might have put it.

No harm done in the long run. Maryland emerged triumphant by an 82-53 margin against the hapless (Not So) Big Green, whose general ineptitude reminded us again that they play in what amounts to a Poison Ivy League as far as hoops are concerned.

So Maryland advanced without drawing too many deep breaths to Tuesday night’s second-round date with Utah. The Utes might give the Terps a bit more competition, considering that they breezed past Villanova on Sunday by an even bigger margin (60-30).

That’s often the way it goes early on in the female version of college basketball’s Big Dance. For whatever reason, there appears to be less parity here, although the men certainly have their share of blowouts.

Distinct disadvantages confront some of the women’s teams during March Madness, and Utah will bump into a highly significant one in the second round when it must play a tough, talented Terrapins team bolstered further by a homecourt advantage.

On the male side, teams never play at home come tournament time. But the women do not sell out most venues, and it helps if potential ticket buyers can yowl for their favorite teams.

Is that fair to its victims? Of course not, as even Maryland coach Brenda Frese conceded.

“You’ve got to be realistic,” she said. “We’ve tried [playing on] neutral courts, and it hasn’t worked out for the women. Obviously, in an ideal situation, this wouldn’t be the most fair and equitable way. But it is what it is.”

If Frese feels that way, imagine what Utah coach Elaine Elliott thinks. To her credit, however, Elliott refused to work herself into a lather about the issue. Publicly, anyway.

“It’s a reality,” she said. “There’s no doubt that it will be challenging Tuesday. But we play half our games on the road anyway, so we’ll just have to deal with it.”

Good luck, especially in front of an audience composed mainly of folks dressed in red and bellowing at every juncture for Terps stars Kristi Toliver and Marissa Coleman, among others.

Actually, the Terps might not need any help from the NCAA office. The ACC champs are 29-4, have won 13 in a row and seem right on course for a possible title-game showdown with unbeaten overall No. 1 seed Connecticut (34-0) on April 7 in St. Louis.

When the Terps convene for practice Monday, Frese will caution them against undue overconfidence, a word that has terrified coaches since Dr. James Naismith remarked to his wife, “I wonder what we can do with these old peach baskets… ”

But when Toliver is clicking as she has been lately, it’s hard to imagine anybody beating Maryland. The 5-foot-7 senior guard from Harrisonburg, Va., was not named ACC player of the year because she has a pleasant smile.

Toliver averaged 18.4 points for the season and 21.3 over a three-game span as the Terps won their first ACC tournament since 1989. She did better than that in the first half Sunday, collecting 23 points before the break - as many as Dartmouth’s entire team - on 9-for-11 shooting. Kristi and fellow senior Coleman, who scored just nine points but snatched 13 rebounds, demonstrated once more why these Terps are terrific.

“What are you gonna do next season without those two?” a man teased Frese after the game.

Brenda just shook her head.

During the postgame interviews, somebody asked Coleman how she felt about having her No. 25 retired and hung in the Comcast rafters, alongside Toliver’s No. 20.

“It’s special,” Marissa said, “but it hasn’t really sunk in yet. We’re more focused on getting another big banner.”

Could this be 2006 all over again for these Terps, meaning another national championship and Coleman’s “big banner”?

Let’s stay tuned.

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