No time for Toliver to play like freshman

March 22, 2006|By MILTON KENT

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- In two weeks, Kristi Toliver hopes that last night will have been just a night to forget on the way to a national championship, and that Maryland's performance will mark the night she grew up as a point guard.

As it was, Toliver turned in a respectable nine points, five rebounds and eight assists in helping the Terps to an 81-74 win over St. John's in the second round of the NCAA tournament, but Toliver knows she can and will have to do better.

"It was tough getting a flow." she said. "I got frustrated early on, but I tried to transition that the second half and tell myself that the first half never happened and come out and play hard. Although I struggled the first half and showed frustration, I learned from that and I know now that I can't do that.

"My teammates can't see me like that. This is definitely a learning game for me and, hopefully, come Albuquerque, this will just be one bad night.""

Toliver, whose father, George, was an NBA referee before becoming a supervisor of officials last year, shot poorly, hitting just 4 of 15 shots. Worse, she committed a season-high six turnovers, one night after recording a career-high 12 assists in the first-round drubbing of Sacred Heart

Right off the opening tip we saw a glimpse of what the Terps can be. Toliver gathered in the tip from Laura Harper and found Marissa Coleman in the left corner, where the forward launched a three-pointer that swished through. That launched a 13-6 run and it looked like the Terps would coast into Albuquerque for this weekend's regional.

But Maryland couldn't put the pesky Red Storm away. Not until Crystal Langhorne hit a pair of layups in the final 2:22 for four of her game-high 30 points to give the Terps a 76-72 lead did things seem comfortable and a trip to the Sweet 16 become official.

What Maryland coach Brenda Frese is asking Toliver to do is not appreciably different than what Mike Krzyzewski did with Bobby Hurley 16 years ago, when the Duke coach served the callow Hurley to the wolves and asked him to grow up and lead a talented team to a championship.

Hurley was embarrassed in the title game against Nevada-Las Vegas, but bounced back to win two championships.

Toliver missed five games early in the season with a leg injury, but while her recovery was slow, and in a sense, ongoing, she has given the Terps all they could ask for in a point guard.

"I've had to grow up really fast with such an amazing team like Maryland." said Toliver. "There's no time to be a freshman, espe cially as a point guard.

"I'm the one that they look at. In the beginning, I was tentative, I was hesitant about being vocal. But throughout the year, my teammates have always shown confidence in me and that's helped me progress a lot quicker. I'm just trying to give them the ball, trying to make the team better. I think I'm doing a pretty good job of that right now."

Still, the Terps are a repeat of Toliver's foul-marred performance in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament final against North Carolina from going home for the year. In Greensboro, Toliver picked up two fouls early in the first half, her third just before halftime and her fourth early in the second half.

Not only was she unable to play aggressively, but Frese was forced to use junior Shay Doron at the point, where she is ill-suited, and North Carolina took advantage, by pressing and trapping Doron all over the floor, turning her mistakes into fast-break baskets.

Granted, the Tar Heels' pressure is probably the best in the women's college game, but the level of guard play will only get better between now and the end of the year. Fairly or unfairly, Toliver's play will have to respond.

Nationally, Freshman of the Year honors have already been as signed either to Oklahoma center Courtney Paris or Tennessee's Candace Parker.

Paris, the Sooners" center, is the only player in women's college basketball history to record 700 points, 500 rebounds and 100 blocks in one season, while Parker, a redshirt forward, became the first woman to dunk in an NCAA tournament game, with two slams in Sunday's win over Army.

Yet, in the long run, it just might be Coleman, the ACC Rookie of the Year, who may be the more productive player in this class of rookies. At 6 feet 1, she can take smaller opponents down on the block and post them up, or roam the perimeter hitting threes.

Still, the Terps are likely to go as far as Toliver's shoulders will carry them. Last night was the first test and she passed it narrowly.

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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