Guard's talent, demeanor earn her staunch support

Terps' Toliver feeling the love

Women

March 18, 2007|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Sun Reporter

COLLEGE PARK -- Kristi Toliver is a kid sister, aside from being a member of the Maryland women's basketball team, so she is pretty used to getting picked on by an older sibling. Toliver's play and the accolades it has drawn from various quarters have given her teammates a lot of material to needle her with, and they haven't passed up an opportunity yet.

After Toliver went 4-for-4 from three-point range in a convincing January win over Michigan State, a reporter called her "Cool Hand Kristi," a reference to Cool Hand Luke, a 1967 film starring Paul Newman. The reference cracked her teammates up and made Toliver a target for teasing.

Far more embarrassing was the grief Toliver got Monday night when the NCAA tournament bracket was announced and ESPN analyst Stacey Dales shouted on national television, "I love you, Kristi Toliver!"

Had there been a trap door in Heritage Hall at Comcast Center, where boosters and fans, as well as her teammates, were gathered, Toliver might have wanted to slink down through it to escape the mockery.

"For me, it's extra motivation," Toliver said. "I have more fun with it. It makes me want to perform better. It's funny to get those names and people saying things about you. It's always a good thing when people are talking about you. It means you're doing well and that's what we want to continue to do, especially going into the tournament."

Toliver, a 5-foot-7 sophomore, has continued her development as a reliable option in the potent Maryland offense that will open defense of its championship today against Harvard in Hartford, Conn.

The Harrisonburg, Va., native is third in scoring on the Terps' roster at 11.9 points per game and is third in the nation in three-point shooting at 47.1 percent. She has hit at least two three-pointers in 12 of Maryland's past 13 games and needs just three more to tie Tiffany Brown's single-season team mark of 69.

While many wondered if the addition of Tennessee transfer Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood would force Toliver into competition for point guard minutes, her ability to play either guard position actually has worked out well for her and the Terps.

"My role's still kind of unspoken, I guess," Toliver said. "I'm kind of doing a lot of things with the 1 and 2. Consistently, I'm just trying to be a basketball player and a good basketball player for the team and a presence on the floor. That's something that I don't think has changed."

Said Maryland coach Brenda Frese: "The fact that Kristi and Marissa [Coleman] can play multiple positions means more minutes, more time on the floor. It speaks volumes to their overall game that you can switch them. They like having that versatility because it means they can slide around on spots on the floor and not be in the game solely at just one position."

If anything, Frese and the players are working on keeping the usually placid Toliver from turning inward or doubting herself. Toliver, who hit the shot that forced overtime in the national title game against Duke last season, frequently finds herself being counseled not to internalize turnovers and missed shots.

"Right now, she's kind of playing with a chip on her shoulder," guard Shay Doron said. "She didn't like her performance against [North] Carolina the two times we played them. She's a big part of our team and she obviously knows that. We need her to win and we need her to do more than scoring, which she can do. She's the point guard and she dictates so much more than scoring. When she gets on that track, we're pretty good."

Said Toliver: "I'm just trying to prove myself every day and just trying to develop into the best basketball player that I want to be and that I want everybody to know I'm capable of being. You could say I have a little chip on my shoulder. I think you'll see during the tournament why and see how I perform."

If Toliver needs an ego boost, she can always call her new BFF (best friend forever), Dales, a guard for the Chicago Sky of the WNBA. Toliver beat Dales in a game of H-O-R-S-E during the Final Four last year and earned her respect for being so fundamentally sound.

"I love that she is an old-school player in our game," Dales said Tuesday on a conference call. "She has a moxie and a confidence about her. When I watched her last year, she had big eyes. Anytime you see a player with big eyes, it's a joy to watch them.

"She has this energy and passion for the game and an old-school approach. I took a lot of joy out of that, and that's what college basketball to me is all about. That's what I love about Kristi Toliver."

milton.kent@baltsun.com

Today's NCAA women's games

MARYLAND

Opponent -- Harvard in Dayton Regional first round, Hartford (Conn.) Civic Center

Time -- 2:30 p.m. (approx.)

TV -- ESPN

UMBC

Opponent -- Connecticut in Fresno Regional first round, Hartford (Conn.) Civic Center

Time -- 9:30 p.m. (approx.)

TV -- ESPN2

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