- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Her teammates either cold from the perimeter or unable to get established in the paint, Marissa Coleman made sure the Maryland women’s basketball season would last at least one more game.

Coleman scored 15 of her 19 points in the second half to lead the top-seeded Terrapins past Nebraska 76-64 in an NCAA tournament second-round game at Comcast Center.

“I didn’t play as well as I wanted to offensively or defensively in the first half,” Coleman said. “But I tried to be more aggressive in the second half, and my defense helped my offense.”

Maryland needed all of those points. Crystal Langhorne had only three field goals in the first 34 minutes, Kristi Toliver missed eight of her first 10 shots, and Nebraska continually answered each Terps run.

Held quiet for most of the game, Langhorne scored seven points in the final 6:38 of her last home game to help preserve the victory.

The Terps (32-3) advance to Spokane, Wash., for Saturday’s regional semifinals against No. 4 seed Vanderbilt (26-8). The other semifinal is second-seeded Stanford (33-3) vs. No. 6 seed Pittsburgh (24-10). The games will start at 9 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.

“It was a hard fought battle at both ends,” Terps coach Brenda Frese said. “I’m very proud of how we were able to keep our poise and composure throughout the second half.”

Eighth-seeded Nebraska, which never led and forged its last tie at 45-45 with 14:54 remaining, ends its season 21-12.

In the other College Park semifinal, Duke advanced in the Oklahoma City region with a 67-59 win over Arizona State.

Maryland was upset in last year’s second round, a season after winning the national championship.

“There’s no other team happier than us to get into the Sweet 16 — it was a hump that we all wanted to get over,” Coleman said. “We didn’t want to look ahead and say our goal was the Final Four — our first goal was to get out of College Park.”

Toliver also scored 19 points for Maryland, and Langhorne added 18 points and 12 rebounds.

With her team leading by a point, Coleman took over, scoring nine consecutive Maryland points. When Kristi Toliver drained a 3-pointer, the Terps led 53-45 with 13:05 remaining.

“I knew at some point Marissa was going to be able to click it on,” Frese said. “It’s a credit to her for hanging tough.”

Coleman’s traditional three-point play at the 8:59 mark gave the Terps their biggest lead at 60-51, and Maryland appeared in control when Langhorne scored a bucket and a free throw with 6:38 remaining to make it 65-53.

But as is their wont, Maryland got in its own way to give Nebraska one last chance. The Cornhuskers scored eight straight points, including a four-point play by Yvonne Turner, to cut the lead to four points. Consecutive baskets by Toliver restored the advantage to eight points.

Maryland came out with much more energy, especially defensively, than it did Sunday against Coppin State when the game wasn’t sealed until the 14-minute mark.

The Terrapins jumped out to an 8-2 lead after freshman Marah Strickland banked in a 12-foot jumper in transition.

Nebraska withstood a stretch in which it scored on only two of 13 possessions when Kaitlyn Burke barely beat the shot clock with a 15-foot jumper. Maryland coach Brenda Frese was assessed a technical foul, and Burke hit one of two free throws to cut the lead to 19-15.

That’s when Maryland’s key run of the first half started, a 13-2 blitz that covered less than four minutes of the clock. The Terps were 8-for-8 from the line during the run. Jade Perry scored inside, and to cap the sequence, Ashleigh Newman saved the possession with an offensive rebound and then hit a 3-pointer. With 5:14 left in the first half, Maryland led 32-17.

That’s when Nebraska’s key run of the first half started, a 16-2 blitz over the final 4:45 of the half that allowed the Cornhuskers to enter the locker room down only 34-33. The Terps went their final eight possessions without a point and on one trip missed four shots. Nicole Neals added two baskets, including a fast-break hoop when she received a behind-the-back pass from Tay Hester.

“We came here with the mentality of giving them a game, and we knew they were the No. 1 seed,” said Turner, who led Nebraska with 23 points. “The coaches told us to be tough and give effort. That’s what we did.”

After hitting seven of their first 13 shots, the Terps missed 14 of their final 17 in the first half. Fortunately, they were able to hit 13 of 14 free throws. Nebraska was only 5-for-11 from the line.

The Cornhuskers were effective against Langhorne, who had six points but only two shots. Perry played 12 minutes off the bench and hit all four of her shots. Toliver was 2-for-10 from the field.

Maryland completed a perfect season at home (21-0) and moved to the Sweet 16 for the second time in three years. The Terps won the national title in 2006.

SEEN AND HEARD

It doesn’t appear that anybody outside diehard hoops fans, family members and friends who can’t make it to the gymnasium carved out part of their Tuesday night to watch the NCAA women’s tournament.

Yet ESPN is in complete control of an event that has generated decent buzz locally, thanks to Maryland and now, I must include, George Washington.

And with the Terrapins starting their second-round game last night against Nebraska a few minutes shy of 10 p.m., they eliminated most of their fan base: families and children.

It is utterly pathetic that the home team has to play the late game on a weeknight when its best bet for selling tickets are those who aren’t apt to stay out until 10 p.m., much less midnight.

Connecticut went through the same thing last year in Hartford, Conn., playing a 9:30 p.m. game. Coach Geno Auriemma called the decision made by the NCAA and ESPN nonsense. Attendance at the Hartford Civic Center lagged far behind previous years, when the Huskies played earlier in the night or the afternoon.

But as we know, television rules everything in sports, now even women’s basketball. …

Before the Nebraska-Maryland game, the Terrapins fans who showed up early threw their support behind No. 6 seed Arizona State, which played No. 3 seed Duke, a Maryland archrival.

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