- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 25, 2009

As the Maryland women prepared for No. 2 North Carolina, they saw their challenge grow more daunting as the week wore on.

Entering last week unblemished, the Tar Heels scuffled. First, top-ranked UConn went unfazed to Chapel Hill on Monday and came away with a 30-point victory. Then on Thursday, Georgia Tech upset North Carolina in Atlanta.

In both cases, Sylvia Hatchell’s team played well for its talent level. The Tar Heels entered the week second in the country at 87.9 points a game but combined for 120 points in the two losses.

The Terrapins (15-3, 3-1) don’t view the Tar Heels (17-2, 3-1 ACC) as a shaken squad, though. They anticipate North Carolina will play with increased emotion Sunday at Comcast Center.

“I expect them to come in here very pissed off, very angry, relentless on the boards,” coach Brenda Frese said. “They’re gonna come out here in attack mentality.”

Added forward Marissa Coleman: “They’re coming off two losses, so they’re gonna be extra fired up and motivated to come in here. They’re not going to wanna lose three in a row.”

That’s one more element the Terps must overcome if they are to snap their three-game losing skid to North Carolina. They haven’t beaten the Tar Heels since the 2006 Final Four.

But they will have the benefit of playing in College Park. The Terps have turned Comcast Center into one of the better homecourt advantages in the conference, having won 28 straight at home, a streak that dates to the beginning of the 2007-08 season.

Although Maryland is annually near the top of the ACC in attendance, it is a rare luxury to play in front of a capacity crowd. As it did the last time North Carolina visited, Maryland expects Comcast Center to be full Sunday.

“When we get more than five students here and the place is rocking, it definitely gives it a different feel,” Coleman said. “Every shot that goes in, the place is extremely loud. They’re a great sixth man for us.”

But Maryland has grown more confident in recent weeks as consistent contributions have come from beyond the starting five. Frese took sophomore sharpshooter Marah Strickland out of the startling lineup - without compromising her minutes - to add a spark to Maryland’s bench. And redshirt freshman Anjale Barrett has emerged as a perimeter threat, having knocked down 11 of 18 3-pointers (61 percent) this season.

“We don’t even call it our bench anymore - it’s our ‘special enforcers,’” Frese said. “We feel like our special enforcers have come ready to play. They’re playing a lot more consistent with a lot of confidence.”

That balance is critical to Maryland’s success. Four Terps (Kristi Toliver, Coleman, Lynetta Kizer and Dee Liles) are averaging double figures, and Strickland (9.7) is right behind them. The Terps falter when their offense grows stagnant, seemingly waiting for Toliver and Coleman to score on their own. That was the case in a loss to Duke and a sloppy win against Clemson earlier this month, when they failed to reach 70 points in either outing.

But they responded with a 96-point outburst last Sunday and five players reaching double figures, easily their most complete effort of the season.

“We’ve had great balanced scoring, really since Christmas,” Frese said. “We’re really starting to click with each other. Any player on any given night can have a lot of success. That’s the exciting thing for where this team is at right now.”

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