My beloved Lady Terps suffered a heartbreaking loss last night to the revenge-seeking Tar Heels of North Carolina. (The Heels lost just two games last year, both to the youthful Terps.) They lost 84-71 before a raucous crowd of 17,950 at Comcast Center. (For excellent coverage of the game, see these three pieces in the Post by Marc Carig, Mike Wise, and Kathy Orton.) It's the second time in two weeks that the Terps have been kicked in the gut by one of the elite teams they beat last year enroute to their improbable national title.
Athletes hate being put on the couch and psychoanalyzed when things aren't going their way. They also hate getting advice from arm-chair coaches and disappointed fans, perhaps especially when the advice is offered up on the internets by aging dogs who happen to have blogs. Nonetheless, the moms and Margie and I stayed up late last night thinking and talking about the game, and we came up with some suggestions for the still young though ever mighty women of Maryland. They probably touched on most of these ideas in the locker room last night, but we offer them anyway in a spirit of admiration and high hope for their future:
- Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself: Fear the Turtle? You bet! Fear the Brenda? After last night's totally understandable technical, we reckon so! But watching last night's game, particularly the execrable first half, one got the sense that the Lady Terps have grown a little anxious in the big games. Last year, they played fearlessly because they were too young to worry about what they were doing. This year, with expectations so high and other teams gunning for them, they seem at clutch moments to suffer from pangs of self-doubt. Self-doubt breeds hesitation, and hesitation breeds turnovers (21 last night), poor shot selection (the normally cool-handed Kristi Toliver was 2-9 from 3-point land against the Heels), and missed passes. Coach Brenda Frese is right that her team needs to ease up on itself a little. Think less. Play more. Remember: It's a game.
- Get Your Swagger Back: Coach B. is right on this one, too. You are the It girls of college basketball. Fans adore you. (Last night's crowd set a record for attendance at an ACC women's game.) Opponents respect you. Look in the mirror, and love what you see. Look at your teammates, and love what you can do together. Look at the stands filled with little girls wearing your numbers and screaming your names, and love what you hear. You are strong and beautiful and tough.
- Get Even: Now you've got a couple of ego-bruising losses to avenge. Now you've got the image of Ivory Latta bobbing her head on your home court to celebrate another swishing 3-pointer burnished in your brains. And then there's that last-second shot by Camille Little, taken after you had conceded the game by opting not to foul North Carolina in the final 10 seconds. We want you to remember that bit of poor sportswomanship. Remember it, and use it to fuel your own competitive fire.
- Check the Calendar: It's not even February yet, women. You've got lots of time to make the adjustments you need to make to win the big games. Your rebounding was magnificent last night. You still need to be more effective on defense, and you need to know what to do if Crystal Langhorne is getting shut down underneath the basket. There's a whole lot more right than there is wrong, though, women, and the season is a long way from over.