COLLEGE PARK - The Maryland women's basketball team officially honored the careers of its two standout seniors nearly a month ago, when Marissa Coleman and Kristi Toliver had their jerseys raised to the arena rafters in a ceremony after their last regular-season home game. But Tuesday night's NCAA second-round contest against ninth seed Utah was actually their last game at Comcast Center, and the Terrapins' dominating 71-56 victory was a far more fitting send-off.
Coleman scored 18 points and grabbed a career-high 18 rebounds, and Toliver had 17 points and four assists. With 2:38 remaining, Toliver and Coleman were taken out of the game and walked off the court as the 10,065 announced fans stood and cheered. Each player paused to hug coach Brenda Frese and then slapped the hands of her teammates on the bench. In their four years at Maryland, the Terrapins were 65-3 at Comcast and won their last 36 home games.
"I won't lie: I got a little emotional," Toliver said. "I didn't want it to end. I knew that was the last time we'd be playing in front of the best fans in the country. ... It's too bad that it's over, but it's a great feeling knowing that we still have games left to be played."
No. 1 seed Maryland (30-4) will play No. 4 Vanderbilt (26-8) in the South Regional semifinals in Raleigh's RBC Center on Saturday afternoon. Maryland met the Commodores in the regional semifinals last year as well and came away with an 80-66 victory.
The first three days of the tournament had been defined, in part, by its surprises: Tennessee's first first-round loss, North Carolina's earliest exit since 2004, and Notre Dame's and Iowa's home losses to lower-seeded teams. But the Terps were determined to avoid that fate, and that was reflected in the way they dominated the glass; they had 30 more rebounds than Utah. Maryland had more offensive rebounds (25) than the Utes had total rebounds (24).
Junior Dee Liles set a career high with 17 rebounds (nine offensive) and added 12 points.
"Coming into the game, Dee and I talked, and we said that we were going to grab every board," Coleman said. "That's the mentality we took into the game. I think Dee and I, we thrive when we're getting rebounds."
The Utes (23-10), however, were the more aggressive team for the first four minutes of the game, grabbing rebounds - two on their first offensive possession - and confidently hitting open shots. After senior guard Morgan Warburton, the Mountain West Player of the Year, converted two free throws with 14:24 left in the first half, Utah led 15-8.
Coleman sparked the comeback: Every time she grabbed a rebound, she immediately started Maryland's fast break. She scored six straight points off an array of jumpers - despite being closely guarded by Utah junior Kalee Whipple (24 points) - during one stretch to turn a four-point deficit into a two-point lead that the Terrapins never relinquished.
"It's so much fun when you can walk into a locker room, you can walk out onto the court today for shootaround, and they're ready to play," Frese said of her two seniors. "When they're ready to play, the team's ready to play. It's a peaceful mind-set as a coaching staff. When you get nervous about an upcoming opponent, you know you have two of the best seniors in the country that are going to continue to help lead this team. ... They have done so many special things for this program."
MARYLAND (30-4) VS. VANDERBILT (26-8)
Saturday, noon or 2:30