As No. 2 North Carolina limped into Comcast Center on Sunday night already having lost two games in the past week, Maryland coach Brenda Frese had a special message for Kristi Toliver and Marissa Coleman.
“I told those guys before we played, ‘You always have to seize the opportunity,’” Frese said.
The seniors took the message to heart. Coleman scored 18 of her 22 points in the first half, and Toliver scored 18 of her 23 in the second as No. 12 Maryland outlasted the Tar Heels 77-71.
“They’re always going to stay in the game. They’re always going to stay competitive. They’re winners through and through,” Frese said. “They’re clicking on all cylinders together, and when they click like that, our team follows suit.”
Coleman was locked in from the outset, knocking down her first five shots, including three 3-pointers.
It was a good thing for Maryland, too, because Toliver scuffled early, netting just five points on 2-for-9 shooting in the first half.
“In the first half, I kinda changed my shot a little bit,” Toliver said. “I was fading, getting away from the contact. I just wanted to go up on two [feet] and land on two.”
Toliver kept firing, and once Maryland’s leading scorer found her touch, the Terrapins were able to pull away in the second half.
The Terps also were able to withstand the waves of players Tar Heels coach Sylvia Hatchell employs. Although North Carolina is the highest scoring team in the ACC, no player averages more than 14 points a game.
Thirteen Tar Heels players saw action Sunday night, but Maryland was able to combat the different lineups by constantly changing its defense.
“We were able to do a lot of things,” Frese said. “When we went to the matchup zone, they had to change their style of play and get their shooters in. When they got their shooters in, they couldn’t rebound as hard. It’s a credit to this team for understanding the difference in the game plan.”
It was a physical game, with players frequently hitting the floor and a lot of pushing inside.
In the end, Maryland got the best of the play inside. The Terps held a 51-38 rebounding edge while committing 14 fewer fouls.
“We went into the locker room at halftime knowing it was going to come down to rebounding,” Frese said. “You saw that when we were really successful was when we were dominating the glass. … It was going to be who could get the second-chance opportunities.”
With the win, the Terps (16-3, 4-1) vaulted over North Carolina (17-3, 3-2) in the ACC standings. That’s an especially advantageous position to be in considering the Tar Heels were unbeaten a week ago.
The Tar Heels’ rough stretch clearly took a toll on Hatchell, who received a technical foul late in the second half after star forward Rashanda McCants fouled out.
“In my 34 years coaching, I’ve never been in a game like this,” the frustrated Hatchell said. “Some things just seemed backwards.”
North Carolina led 42-41 early in the second half before Toliver scored 11 points in a 13-3 run that gave the Terps the steady cushion they would enjoy throughout the rest of the game.
“That’s what you’re seeing a lot from us now: Whoever has the hot hand, we’re finding them,” Coleman said. “The first half it was me, and the second half we were finding Kristi in open spots.”
Note - Former N.C. State coach Kay Yow, who died Saturday after a long bout with breast cancer, was honored in multiple ways. North Carolina wore pink uniforms, Maryland wore pink warmups and the referees used pink whistles. Kay Yow is the sister of Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow.