- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- It seemed as though every time Maryland's Laura Harper showed up to work out this past summer, teammate Marissa Coleman was already there.
"I've never seen a group of players, especially Marissa, in the gym more," Harper said of the Terrapins' offseason. "I mean, I'd come at midnight, and Marissa is [there]. I come at 8 o'clock in the morning, and Marissa's like, 'I was up at 6:30.'"
Coleman, Harper and the rest of the Terps were stung by their 89-78 loss to Ole Miss in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in March. The attempt to repeat their national championship fizzled out in a way none of the Terps had expected.
"Just having that taste in your mouth, you know how much more you can work," Harper said. "This team has really taken that to heart, putting in the extra time with their shots and everything."
The offseason was a time to refuel the fire Maryland had played with in 2006, and nobody was more ready to do that than Coleman. We got to see her at her best Sunday as No. 4 Maryland beat No. 6 Oklahoma 76-66 in the nightcap of the State Farm Hall of Fame Tipoff Classic at North Carolina's Smith Center.
The game wasn't really that close -- the halftime score of 42-24 was more reflective of how much better Maryland was in this matchup. The Terps looked very much like national-title contenders again -- as much as any team can in November.
Coleman, a 6-foot-1 junior guard/forward, had 20 points, 12 rebounds and five assists. With senior center Crystal Langhorne at less than 100 percent with an ankle injury, it was Coleman who rightfully got the majority of touches for the Terps. She was 9-of-17 from the field.
"Marissa did a tremendous job tonight," Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. "When she's aggressive like that and in that kind of attack mode, it just makes us so much better. The way she can score and defend and rebound, the way she can penetrate to set up other teammates. Her versatility, the fact that she can play four positions. Obviously, it allows us to put her on the floor and leave her out there for a lot of minutes."
In a teleconference last week, OU coach Sherri Coale had said Coleman was the player opponents are always most worried about.
"When I hear the term 'matchup nightmare,' I think Marissa Coleman," Coale said. "You look at her and you think, 'This kid can play at the block and own the pivot, but she also brings the ball down the court, can shoot from outside, go to the rim. She's a little like Magic Johnson was. When you get somebody with that kind of speed and finesse and strength, it's a tough, tough matchup for everybody they face, not just us."
Coleman also had 20 points and 12 rebounds in the loss last season to Ole Miss, so she did her part in that game. But the fact that it wasn't enough stayed with her all summer. On Friday, the Terps opened 2007-08 in the Preseason WNIT with a 76-52 victory over Princeton, but Coleman wasn't really happy with that, either.
"We were kind of disappointed with our energy against Princeton, and we wanted to come into this game and play a complete game," Coleman said. "When we have the energy like we did tonight, it's just a lot of fun."
Fun for everybody but the Sooners and their fans, that is.
"There aren't many more athletic teams or deeper teams or more experienced teams," Coale said of the Terps. "You can just go down the list of all the things Maryland is that we are not."
But Coale also said her team learned a lot. Oklahoma lost six seniors off last season's Sweet 16 team, which -- like the Terps -- lost to Ole Miss in the NCAA Tournament.
The 3-point shooting prowess of those departed OU seniors was missed Sunday, as the Sooners were 3-of-18 from long range. Coale, however, is sure her younger players will be able to pick up that slack as they become more accustomed to college basketball.
In the meantime, the pressure is on junior center Courtney Paris more than ever. She extended her double-double streak to 62 in a row, but 11 points and 10 rebounds is not her kind of game.
And she wasn't the Paris who took the most shots for OU. She was 3-for-9 from the field, and twin Ashley, who is in the starting lineup now, was 8-of-12 for a team-high 17 points.
"I though [Ashley] was terrific," Coale said. "She was aggressive, looking to score and demanding the basketball in the post."
Courtney Paris said defending Maryland was particularly difficult because of all the options the Terps have.
"They've got Laura Harper, who's long and can block a lot of shots, do a lot of things for you," Paris said. "Then Crystal Langhorne -- she's finesse, she can move it around and do amazing things with her feet. Then you've got Jade Perry, who's a big pusher -- more like my type of a post player. They really challenged us inside in a lot of different ways."
Langhorne, as mentioned, was not herself offensively, going 1-for-7 from the field for two points. But it shows just how strong Maryland is when she has that kind of game and the Terps still decisively beat a fellow top-10 team.
Senior Harper had 16 points and 11 rebounds; freshman starter Marah Strickland had 14 points; and junior Kristi Toliver had a very good all-around performance with 16 points, 11 assists and five rebounds.
"We had a lot of fun tonight; I just loved the poise and energy we played with," Frese said. "I thought we really played extremely unselfish basketball. It was just fun to watch, the way we were moving the basketball and looking for each other.
"It was a tremendous job by our post play and our whole team. There were so many great things for us to be able to build on."
Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
13dBonnie D. Ford