The nets havebeen cut down, the mess from the celebratory disturbances on campus cleaned up,the White House visited. What's next for the Maryland Terrapins, who came backfrom a 13-point second-half deficit to stun Duke 78--75 in overtime in thewomen's NCAA title game on April 4? More of the same, quite possibly, forseveral years to come. The Terps' starting five of two freshmen, two sophomoresand a junior was the youngest in the tournament field this year--and the onlything they will lose next year is the underdog status that fueled them to aschool-record 34-win season. "We'll be the hunted now," says coachBrenda Frese. "And that brings questions. Is next year's team going to behungry enough?"
Motivation wasnever a problem this year. Just like Billy Donovan's precocious Florida Gators,the Terrapins brashly shoved aside more experienced teams on their way to thetitle. No Terp played more confidently than point guard Kristi Toliver. The5'7" freshman overcame a wretched shooting performance in the first halfagainst Duke and hit a three-pointer over 6'7" Blue Devils center AlisonBales to tie the title game and force OT. "I came to Maryland because Iwanted to be able to contribute right off the bat," says Toliver, who wasalso recruited by Duke and Connecticut. "I didn't want to be a part of ateam that had already won a national championship."
Now, of course,that's exactly what she is. Besides defending the title next year, Toliver willhave to contend with the presence of 5'9" sophomore point guard Sa'deWiley-Gatewood, the 2004 Parade player of the year who transferred fromTennessee in January. But Toliver sees the competition as just another reasonwhy the Terps will improve. "We're friends and teammates, and we're goingto compete every day in practice and make each other better," says Toliver."And that is only going to make our team that much better."
The Top Five
SI's 2006-07 Picks
1. MARYLAND (34-4 in 2005-06)
2. NORTH CAROLINA (33-2)
The Tar Heels' one-two punch of senior point guard Ivory Latta and juniorforward Erlana Larkins should be motivated by Final Four loss to Terps.
3. OKLAHOMA (31-5)
The Sooners welcome 6'3" Abi Olajuwon, a high school All-America and thedaughter of NBA legend Hakeem Olajuwon.
4. DUKE (31-4)
Senior center Alison Bales (9.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.43 blocks per game)is a rock in the middle.
5. TENNESSEE (31-5)
As a forward sophomore Candace Parker can do everything, but can she also playguard? The Lady Vols' need backcourt depth.