Coleman and Toliver look to take Maryland back to the Final Four

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Four years ago, when they were high school seniors, Marissa Coleman and Kristi Toliver were brash enough to tell Maryland women's basketball coach Brenda Frese at a high school all-star game that the Terps would be in the Final Four the next year.

Coleman, a 6-foot-1 forward, and Toliver, a 5-7 guard, weren't the leading scorers on their respective teams that day, but their performances hinted at enough promise that Frese at least listened, even if she didn't completely believe them.

"I thought they were two of the craziest (high school) seniors you could have imagined,' said Frese with a chuckle this week. "They proved Coach wrong. They've always dreamed big. They've always believed it. And they've always been able to back it up.'

A year later, in Boston, there was Toliver launching one of the biggest shots in women's basketball history, a three-pointer just before the buzzer to force overtime against Duke in the national title game.

And there was Coleman notching a double-double in the game -- and sinking the clinching free throws in overtime to give Maryland its first women's basketball national title.

So, while most of women's college basketball is shocked and awed by the unbeaten regular season Connecticut has put together this year, Toliver and Coleman are neither frightened nor anxious about the prospects of facing the Huskies.

"My man Michael Wilbon said it twice on PTI," said Toliver. "'If anybody in the country is going to beat UConn, it's going to be Maryland.' Obviously, I'm a little biased, but I agree with him."

What Maryland has in Toliver and Coleman are perhaps the best pair of clutch shooters in the women's game. Already this season, Toliver, the ACC's Player of the Year, nailed a three-pointer at the buzzer at Florida State to give Maryland a one-point win in early February.

That victory not only launched the Terps' current 12-game winning streak, but also gave the team the tiebreaker edge that gave Maryland a share of its first regular-season ACC title in 20 years.

Meanwhile, Coleman, the ACC's Player of the Week for the last three weeks of the regular season and the MVP of the conference tournament, hit the go-ahead three-pointer in Maryland's 92-89 overtime win over Duke in the ACC tournament final.

That win gave Maryland its first ACC tournament title in 20 years and gave the Terps a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Maryland opens play in the Raleigh Regional Sunday against 16th-seeded Dartmouth at Comcast Center, where they've won 34 straight.

Toliver and Coleman don't lack for confidence. Going 123-18 for your career, including 63-3 at home, will do that for you. This season, Toliver (18.4 ppg) and Coleman (17.7) account for for 45 percent of the Maryland's offense.

When Crystal Langhorne, Maryland's all-time leading scorer and rebounder, and Laura Harper, the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, left for the WNBA after last year's loss to Stanford in the Elite Eight, their departure left a crater in the Terps' attack.

Coleman and Toliver began the year knowing they would have to boost their scoring, and in Maryland's freewheeling offense, that goal was easily accomplished.

But what Frese also needed increased leadership for a roster with just two other upperclassmen besides Toliver and Coleman. For Coleman, the more fiery of the two, meeting that challenge was relatively easy. However, Toliver, who lost her starting job two years ago because of her reticence at being vocal, had to work harder at being a leader.

"Last year, we had Lang and Harp who were phenomenal leaders," said Toliver, the daughter of a former NBA referee. "So, I knew that through the course of everything, things would happen as they should. I think now's the time where Marissa and I have both stepped up."

Said Frese: "That's been the greatest gift, to be able to hear and see what they're saying in the locker room and in timeouts and what they're doing on the court in practice situations. You just know that this team is being taken care of and it's not just from the coaches' end. It's your leadership up top. That's why this team has been able to have so much success."