Vanderbilt falls to Maryland in Sweet 16

March 28, 2009

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Marissa Coleman dropped into a crouch as the final horn sounded, emotionally drained and physically exhausted after the game of her life.

Never before had the Maryland senior scored that many points — and the Terrapins needed every single one to return to the regional finals.

Coleman scored a career-high 42 points, including the go-ahead basket with 27.9 seconds left, as Maryland rallied from 18 down to beat Vanderbilt 78-74 on Saturday.

“I just didn’t want my career to end,” Coleman said. “I love playing with this team, and I love wearing a Maryland uniform. That’s just what I told myself, that every time I walked onto the floor, I was going to defend, rebound, do whatever I needed to do to keep my career going.”

Maryland (31-4) will play No. 3 seed Louisville — coached by former Maryland assistant Jeff Walz — on Monday night for a spot in the Final Four.

Saturday, the No. 1 seed in the Raleigh Regional used a late 15-3 run to erase an 11-point deficit and didn’t lead until Demauria Liles hit a layup with 2:07 left.

Coleman — who surpassed her previous best of 32 points set a month ago against Boston College — nearly had to beat the Commodores by herself. She finished 15-for-27 from the field, made 10-of-11 free throws, had 15 rebounds and had the ball in her hands on virtually every important possession against a Vanderbilt team that started four guards. Coleman was four inches taller than Jennifer Risper, who guarded her.

“She put on a show,” Maryland teammate Kristi Toliver said. “She definitely took advantage of a 5-9 post player and she dominated from start to finish.” Christina Wirth scored a career-high 28 points to lead No. 4 seed Vanderbilt (26-9). Her free throws with 42.4 seconds left made it 74-all.

“In one media timeout, I just went to the coaching staff and said I wanted to guard [Wirth],” Coleman said. “She was getting off on us, and I didn’t want my career to end. So I was going to do whatever I could to defend her and limit her touches and her shot opportunities.”

Coleman then put Maryland ahead to stay on its next trip downcourt with a fallaway jumper over Jence Rhoads.

After Wirth’s jumper over Toliver rimmed out with about 12 seconds left, Coleman hit two free throws with 9.6 seconds remaining to clinch the Terps’ third trip to the regional finals in four seasons.

Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb called it “one of the best performances against any team I’ve ever coached.

“Her strength and her ability to shoot the 3 as well as take you off the dribble and rebound — the combination of that was just, obviously, unstoppable for us,” Balcomb said.

Toliver finished with 17 points for the Terrapins, winners of 15 straight.

Toliver and Coleman, the team’s only seniors, were freshmen on the 2006 team that won the program’s first national title. Now they’re one step closer to wrapping up their time in College Park with another one.

“Just another amazing chapter in their careers,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. “This story isn’t ready to end.”

Toliver, Maryland’s top sharpshooter, struggled with foul trouble all day and was just 7-for-16, and no other Terrapins scored more than six points. Atlantic Coast Conference freshman of the year Lynetta Kizer was just 3-for-11 shooting.

Still, it was enough to beat Vanderbilt in the round of 16 for the second straight year. Maryland beat the Commodores 80-66 in the third round of last year’s tournament.

Rhoads had 14 points and Risper scored 13 for the Commodores, whose six-game winning streak ended. They had been playing shorthanded lately after top post player Hannah Tuomi was lost with a stress fracture in her foot.

Merideth Marsh added 12 points, and her two free throws with 6:59 remaining put Vanderbilt up 68-57 before the Terrapins came on strong down the stretch to keep Vandy winless in the regional semifinals under Balcomb.

The Commodores haven’t reached the round of eight since Jim Foster led them there in 2002, and the loss left the Southeastern Conference without a representative in the round of eight.

Early on, at least, it looked as though Vanderbilt would sail into the next round.

The Commodores outworked the Terrapins on both ends of the court and spent much of the first half up by double digits, opening the game with a 12-2 run and methodically stretching their lead to 33-15 on Marsh’s 3-pointer from the corner with about 6 minutes left.

“I feel like we won this game for 39 minutes,” Wirth said.

Coleman almost single-handedly brought the Terps back from their deep early deficit, scoring 12 points during Maryland’s 21-6 half-closing run. Seconds after Vandy pushed its lead to 18, Coleman drew contact from Risper while knocking down a jumper — then let out her frustrations with an impassioned scream.

Then, in a bit of foreshadowing, she took over. She completed that three-point play, added a layup off Toliver’s pretty feed and made five free throws before hitting a pullup jumper over Lauren Lueders that capped the big run and made it 39-36 at the break.

“If she’s not named an All-American, that’s an injustice [because of] what she’s meant to this team and this program and just being able to put the team on her back,” Frese said. “The biggest intangible with Marissa is just her heart, her will to win.”