- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 31, 2009

RALEIGH, N.C. | With about a minute remaining in the Raleigh Region final, coach Brenda Frese took out senior stars Marissa Coleman and Kristi Toliver. They received a standing ovation from the Maryland faithful and, tearing up, embraced their coach before taking a spot on the bench.

The scene was nearly identical to one at Comcast Center a week ago, when Coleman and Toliver celebrated their last game in College Park. But Monday night at RBC Center, the tears flowed for a different reason: Their Maryland careers had ended. The top-seeded Terps fell a game short of the Final Four for the second year in a row, falling to No. 3 seed Louisville 77-60.

Louisville advanced to its first Final Four and will face the winner of Tuesday’s Oklahoma City Region final matching Oklahoma and Purdue.

“It’s always tough to have that moment for seniors, for their careers to end, especially these two,” Frese said. “[Because of] what they’ve meant to our team, you hate for it to end like this.”

The Cardinals won the opening tip and controlled the game for all 40 minutes. They never trailed, and the Terps tied the score only twice at 2-2 and 11-11.

Coleman wasn’t able to dig the Terps out of a deep hole the way she did two days earlier against Vanderbilt, when she scored a school-record 42 points to help Maryland escape an 18-point deficit. The Cardinals refused to suffer the same fate. They doubled Coleman and Toliver every time they tried to drive to the basket; even when they didn’t have the ball, a Louisville defender was never more than an arm’s length away.

“The first game took a lot out of us,” Frese said. “I know Marissa’s not going to admit that with the load that she had to carry to get us here. That’s why in the NCAA tournament, matchups are so critical. If we were playing a different style of team, maybe your results are a little bit different.”

With no room to work, the seniors were forced to take contested jumpers or kick the ball out. Toliver and Coleman could never get into rhythm, and neither could Maryland’s offense.

It was a smart strategy by Louisville coach Jeff Walz, a former Terps assistant who knew that as the seniors go, the Maryland offense goes. The Terps’ 60 points were their second-lowest output of the season. Coleman finished with 18 points on 6-for-12 shooting, and Toliver had 14 points on 5-for-15 shooting.

“They did a really good job making us uncomfortable, throwing different looks at us,” Toliver said. “We never really could get into a rhythm. That was definitely their game plan, and they were able to execute.”

Coleman tried to bring the same energy to the deflated Terps whenever she could. After making a driving layup and getting fouled early in the second half, she punched the padding protecting the base of the basket. But Louisville’s suffocating defense proved too much to overcome.

“We kept cutting into the lead, but it seemed like every time we got it to within 10, they would make a big basket,” Coleman said. “So that’s a credit to them for continuing to attack, not folding when we went on our runs.”

Angel McCoughtry, Louisville’s all-time leading scorer, paced the Cardinals with 21 points. Teammates Deseree’ Byrd (17) and Candyce Bingham (15) provided sufficient support.

The Cardinals opened the second half on a 10-5 run to grab a 10-point advantage, and Maryland was never able to get closer than eight points the rest of the way.

It wasn’t the ending Toliver and Coleman had in mind for a senior season that had been so memorable. Despite decreased expectations entering the season because Maryland had lost Crystal Langhorne and Laura Harper to graduation, the Terps were able to win the ACC‘s regular-season and tournament titles for the first time in 20 years.

Coleman and Toliver leave a legacy: They are second and third on the program’s all-time scoring list, and Toliver is Maryland’s career leader in 3-pointers and assists.

Despite the sour ending, Coleman and Toliver will be remembered as the winningest players in Maryland history.

“It’s sad that I’m not going to be able to wear the Maryland uniform ever again,” Toliver said. “I really just want to take it all in. I don’t really think I’ve yet to take it all in because it all happened so fast.”

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