Finding scorer to turn corner

Basketball: Called one of the country's better shooters by her coach, Marche Strickland looks to lead the Maryland women to new heights.

College Basketball

January 16, 2001|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - A white elastic cloth around the head is the first item you notice when Marche Strickland is on the basketball court.

"That's my symbol," said Strickland, a junior guard for the women's team at Maryland. "I'm known as the girl with the headbands. I can't go on the court without wearing one."

After the headband - six or seven of them, last season's brand Nike, this season Adidas - the next thing you notice about Strickland is the jump shot, which has been a constant in good times and bad for the Terrapins (10-6, 1-4 Atlantic Coast Conference), who play host to Wake Forest on Thursday night.

And, yes, the jump shot often goes in when it leaves Strickland's hands. As of Friday, her 1.67 three-pointers per game ranked fourth in the ACC, and she leads her team with 14.1 points per game.

Not every game goes so smoothly, and Strickland suffered a 4-for-14 performance from the field in a loss to Duke on Sunday. But Maryland coach Chris Weller rates her high among players she has coached in 26 seasons at College Park.

"I think Marche's one of the better shooters in the country," Weller said, putting Strickland in with the high company of one-time career scoring leader Marcia Richardson and Jasmina Perazic. "Those are probably the three best shooters we've ever had."

Strickland has a father, Marshall Jr., who played Division III basketball and a younger brother, Marshall III, who is a coveted high school prospect at South Carroll High. So, it's no surprise that although Marche remembers being a talented soccer player, she quickly gravitated to basketball while growing up in Kingston, Mass.

She became a star at Silver Lake High School, averaging 31 points her senior year. In the end, she chose Maryland over Boston College.

"I had family in the area, and I loved the ACC's level of competition," said Strickland, whose parents have since moved to Mount Airy in Carroll County.

Strickland got a harsh initiation to college basketball during the 1998-99 season. One returning point guard candidate was injured. The other was ineligible. So Strickland, who came to Maryland to shoot, was forced to play point guard for the first time on a team that lost its first nine games.

The experience of a 6-21 record - when taken with outings like last season's road upset of Sweet 16 team Duke - adds up to a strange trip for the careers of Strickland and fellow juniors Deedee Warley and Rosita Melbourne.

"The junior class has been through a lot," Strickland said. "That's helped us become close as a team. ... Going through the hard times makes you appreciate the good times."

As a sophomore last season, Strickland got a full year at her natural position, shooting guard.

"That's what I was recruited for," Strickland said. "I'm a shooter, and that's my role."

Strickland responded with an average of 14.3 points, including a career-high 32 against Georgia Tech. The performance was good enough for third-team honors in the ACC and helped Maryland improve to 16-15 and a Women's National Invitation Tournament appearance.

Along with Warley, who also averages double figures for her career, Strickland must deal with being the focal point of opponents' defenses. So far, Weller said Strickland has handled the situation well.

"Last year, she got over to where she belonged and started drawing attention," Weller said. "The nice thing is that she's worked hard in the off-season to make her shot better. So, she's really playing a notch above last year, even though the stats are the same."

Weller is counting on Strickland and others to help lift the program another notch, this time toward the top tier of the ACC. With no seniors, Strickland, Warley and Melbourne are being counted on to have two senior seasons in a sense, assuming the leadership roles.

"We're getting better," Warley said. "We're pushing ourselves so that we can gradually get to the next level."

The Terps have been hurt by the absence of point guard Vicki Brick (McDonogh), who suffered a knee injury before practices began and probably won't return this year.

But the major hurdle has been consistency, particularly against the better teams. Maryland has followed each of its wins against teams rated in the top 50 in Ratings Percentage Index - Santa Clara and Clemson - with embarrassing losses. One was against a so-so San Francisco squad. The other, a 41-point defeat at Virginia, was probably more disconcerting.

Still, the Terrapins see brighter things ahead.

"We're very close," Strickland said. "We're going to break through that wall, and we'll be a good team when we do."

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