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While the Men Play, the Women Wait

Kristi Toliver looked wiped out as she sat in the locker room following the fourth-ranked Maryland women's 92-89 overtime victory over Duke in the ACC tournament final on Sunday afternoon. "It's been a long week," she said. "I'm definitely ready for a few days off."

The Terrapins get more than a few days off; they won't play again until March 22, when they host a first-round NCAA tournament game. That's a full two weeks between games, but the layoff isn't entirely unwelcome.

Maryland has just nine players, and its run to its first ACC tournament title in 20 years was a grueling one, with tightly contested games against Wake Forest, No. 11 North Carolina and No. 6 Duke on consecutive days. Senior Marissa Coleman, the tournament MVP, played a 123 out of a possible 125 minutes in the three games, while Toliver, who is battling a cold, was on the court for 119 minutes. Redshirt freshman Kim Rodgers, who played a total of 60 minutes during the regular season, logged 52 minutes in three days.

The players had Monday and Tuesday off, and Rodgers said she tried to stay away from Comcast Center. Toliver said she spent all of Tuesday lying down and sleeping, trying to shake her cold. Practice resumed on Wednesday, with an emphasis on defense and rebounding.

"I think the most important thing is to stay focused," Toliver said. "It's easy to go off track and do other things and think about other things with all this idle time that we have. But I think just being smart with our bodies, what we're doing in our spare time. We're about nine-strong, so we don't have a ton of bodies. So just stay healthy and stay fresh-minded."

North Carolina has taken the unusual step of scheduling a game during the two-week layoff; the Tar Heels will host South Dakota, which is making the transition to Division I, on Sunday afternoon. It's an interesting idea, but one that doesn't really suit the Terrapins.

"I think it would be probably pretty hard at this point to get our kids up to play a game like that, given what we just went through.," Coach Brenda Frese said. "I think you can simulate the same thing in practice with your scout guys and intra-squad scrimmages."

So the Terrapins will keep their practice routine the same as the regular season, except that they will move to Ritchie Coliseum for a few days as the Maryland state high school basketball tournament is held inside Comcast. Frese said she was pleasantly surprised with the intensity and hunger that the players began practice with on Wednesday, though it waned by the end of the two-hour session due to the team's thinner-than-usual roster (sophomore Marah Strickland was out sick, and redshirt freshman Anjale Barrett watched from the sidelines as she nursed a sore knee).

The coaching staff will use this mini-break as a time to recruit—Frese will be out on the road over the next few days—and to watch as many games as possible. Six to eight teams have been identified as potential early-round opponents, and the coaches have started watching film on them. Said Frese, "This is a good time to get familiar with a lot of different opponents out there."

As for the players, they'll try to stay busy and remember what lies ahead. The NCAA tournament brackets are revealed on Monday night.

"I think ending on such a high note at the end of ACC play is definitely going to keep our focus," said Toliver, as she snacked on a piece of cake that celebrated the tournament championship. "The ACC tournament was a big stage, but there's nothing like the NCAA tournament. So we definitely have that in the back of our heads."

By Camille Powell  |  March 12, 2009; 11:11 AM ET
Categories:  Women's basketball  
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