- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 29, 2008

SPOKANE, Wash. — All season, Marah Strickland tried to get her Maryland women’s basketball teammates and coaches to call her “Big Strick.”

But since she is a freshman in a veteran-dominated starting lineup, they didn’t listen.

Until Thursday.

Diving into the fray during practice at Gonzaga University, Strickland’s left temple met Laura Harper’s elbow. Blood was spilled. Four stitches (the first of her life) were applied. And the nickname was acknowledged.

“She’s wanted that nickname and now ‘Big Strick’ sticks for me,” coach Brenda Frese said. “She’s going to go after a loose ball even if Laura Harper’s elbows are nearby.”

Said junior Marissa Coleman: “Freshman mistake. But after that, I guess I have to call her ‘Big Strick,’ too.”

Strickland wore a Band-Aid over the wound during yesterday’s 50-minute practice at Spokane Arena, site of the top-seeded Terps’ regional semifinal against No. 4 Vanderbilt today at 9 p.m.

“I bled down my face a little bit but everybody was like, ‘Whoa! You look so cool!’ They wanted to take a picture,” she said.

The aggressive and unselfish play that cracked her temple, just above her eyebrow, was just another example of how Strickland has seamlessly moved into a starting lineup with two juniors and two seniors, all of whom have championship rings.

A prolific high school scorer (2,056 points at St. John’s-Prospect Hall and Towson Catholic), Strickland has played a far different role with Maryland, a team with four players averaging at least 14.3 points.

Starting every game except for Senior Night, Strickland this season has averaged 8.3 points, 3.2 rebounds in 29.1 minutes. Her 53 3-pointers rank second on the team.

“It’s obviously a huge adjustment when you’re a go-to scorer,” Frese said. “But it says a lot about Marah that she understands what her role needed to be for us to be successful.”

And that role has been to complement Harper, Coleman, Crystal Langhorne and Kristi Toliver. Be ready to hit the open jumper when defenses collapse on the post. Throw adequate entry passes. And play defense.

“It was definitely difficult at first, but it was also something I expected,” she said. “This team is so great and has so many pieces, it was understandable.”

Strickland has reached double figures 14 times in 35 games. But she has only three points in the last three games as Coleman (56 points during the three contests) has found an offensive rhythm.

“It’s a thin line because everybody tells me to be aggressive and I want to play like that,” Strickland said. “But I also understand there are great athletes with me on the floor, and I have to get them the ball.”

Strickland knew Maryland’s personnel before she committed to the program because she always has followed the ACC in general and the Terrapins in particular. Her sister, Marche, now 27, played for the Terps from 1999 to 2002 and is now a sonographer at Fairfax Hospital. Their brother, Marshall III, played at Indiana (2002-06) and now plays professionally in Turkey.

“Marah was always somebody we wanted to see in a Maryland uniform and we were fortunate to have those bloodlines and ties to the program,” Frese said.

The siblings don’t play one-on-one games, but last summer, there was a spirited “Around The World” shooting contest, consisting of three attempts from five different spots beyond the 3-point line.

Marah won. Controversy followed.

“That was probably the first time I won,” she said. “They said I was cheating and my foot was always on the line.”

As her Maryland career progresses, Strickland will get more opportunities from the perimeter. The Terps graduate post players Langhorne, Harper and Jade Perry, likely meaning they will a become guard-oriented team next season.

“She’ll come back knowing she’ll have to do more,” Frese said. “But her versatility and having this year under her belt will be a big asset for her.”

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