- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 26, 2009

When coach Brenda Frese took Kristi Toliver and Marissa Coleman out late in the second half of Maryland’s rout of Utah on Tuesday, the seniors received a standing ovation from the 10,065 fans at Comcast Center.

The crowd support was the one of the numerous benefits the Terrapins enjoyed while playing their first two NCAA tournament games at home, where they dispatched Dartmouth and the Utes by a combined 44 points.

The top-seeded Terps play No. 4 Vanderbilt in Saturday’s regional semifinal at RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C., but the change of venue doesn’t concern them. In fact, they expect to maintain their advantage.

“We’re very familiar with playing in North Carolina [because of] the number of times that we’ve been there this year and in years past,” Coleman said. “We kind of have an advantage in that, and we know we’re gonna get some fans down there.”

It wasn’t long ago that playing on Tobacco Road was unkind to the Terps. Their road win against Duke last season snapped a seven-game losing streak at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Trying to win the ACC tournament proved more vexing as Maryland often came up short in the event. Terps greats Shay Doron, Crystal Langhorne and Laura Harper never broke through in Greensboro.

But a successful three-day run earlier this month changed that perception. The Terps toppled three North Carolina-based teams - Wake Forest, North Carolina and Duke - en route to their first ACC tournament title since 1989.

Raleigh’s relative proximity to College Park softens the burden of switching from a Sunday-Tuesday schedule to Saturday-Monday. Maryland’s players got their lone day off this week Wednesday while the coaching staff started preparing for the Commodores, whom the Terps beat 80-66 in last year’s regional semifinal.

“It reminds me of 2006, when we had the same quick turnaround, and we feel like some of the best fans in the country will travel with us to an easy location,” Frese said.

The Terps credit their well-traveled fan base as a key component to their change of fortunes in North Carolina. Coleman and Toliver have proved how well they play in front of favorable crowds. The duo compiled a 65-3 career record at home, including wins in their last 36 games there.

Terps supporters were well represented at the ACC tournament earlier this month, and an even bigger group is expected to make the roughly five-hour drive to Raleigh.

“It’s going to help us out a lot,” Coleman said. “They’ve willed us to a lot of wins. We have great fan support, and I know they want to see this team win a national championship, so they’re gonna do their part and come out and support us.”

Winning the ACC tournament fulfilled a shared goal for Toliver and Coleman after the achievement eluded them in their first three seasons. Their production in the past two months has sparked the Terps’ 14-game winning streak.

“It’s so much fun when you can walk into a locker room, walk out on the court for shootaround and they’re ready to play,” Frese said. “And you know when they’re ready to play, the team is ready to play. It gives you a peaceful mindset as a coaching staff when you get nervous about an upcoming opponent, that you know you have two of the best seniors in the country that are going to continue to help this team.”

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