ESPN is billing tomorrow night's second-round matchup between Maryland and Louisville in the women's NCAA tournament as a grudge match. That sounds about right to the rabid Terp fans of Roxie's World, who have never gotten over the beat down Maryland suffered at the hands of Coach Jeff Walz's Cardinals in the 2009 Elite Eight. It isn't just the score -- 77-60 -- that still stings, painful as it was to watch the glorious collegiate careers of Marissa Coleman and Kristi Toliver end on such a sour note. What rankles even more is what Walz did when the final whistle blew and Coleman and Toliver sat stunned and disconsolate on the Maryland bench. Walz is a former Maryland assistant coach who was with the team when Brenda Frese guided a group of upstart freshmen, including Coleman and Toliver, to a national championship in 2006. He relied on his intimate knowledge of Maryland's players and its system to formulate a game plan that exploited its weaknesses. His team executed the plan brilliantly -- and when the dismantling was over Walz made a beeline for Coleman and Toliver and tried to comfort the women he had just defeated. Here's what we wrote about the gesture the day after the game:
At that moment when cameras were focused on the devastated stars, Walz, engineer of their disappointment, went over to each of them, got down on his knees, and put his arms around them. Moose thought there was something jarring about it at the time. It seemed disingenuous of him to take on the role of comforting them for a loss he and his team would be boasting about in a matter of seconds. Word of friction between Walz and Frese makes the gesture even harder to take. If Walz sincerely wished to express sympathy to Coleman and Toliver or admiration for their brilliant careers, he should have done so out of the limelight and only after Coleman and Toliver had had a chance to compose themselves. To insert himself into that moment was to take on a role that rightly belonged to his old boss and, apparently, his new foe. He beat her team, handily. He didn't need to try to usurp her role.via]), which surfaced in the wake of the 2009 contest, but we have a hunch we're not the only ones hungering for a little revenge tomorrow night. When the brackets for this year's tournament were announced and it was clear the Terps and Cardinals could meet again, Marissa Coleman immediately tweeted (yes, Moose follows her -- don't judge) of the matchup: "TERPS get some payback for @KristiToliver and I, would ya?!" (Love you, Shoulders, always will, but that should read, "for @KristiToliver and me.") During first-round action Saturday at the Comcastle, some fans might have greeted Walz with warm fuzzies when he took the floor for his team's game against Michigan State, but there was no love lost for Louisville's head coach up where the Moms sit in section 114. When the short-fused Walz loudly berated a player for throwing up a bad shot (when the Cards already had a comfortable lead), a fan/friend mockingly repeated the coach's rebuke, adding in his own booming voice, "We could hear you all the way up here, Walz!" After that, we spent the rest of the not very entertaining game dissecting Walz's issues -- "He's got an Auriemma complex," one Freudian averred -- and concocting elaborate plots to guarantee a Terp victory tomorrow night, most of which involved sending spoiled seafood to the Louisville team's hotel.
Yes, darlings, that's why they call it Madness, this seasonal affective disorder college basketball fans experience every year come tournament time. We love the game, adore our team, and live for the drama of the major upset or the thrilling comeback. Or, you know, the sweet revenge.
We'll be in the stands tomorrow night, maybe with a special sign imploring the Terps to win it for Marissa and K. T. or to remember 2009. On the other hand, why should we burden these splendid young women with the bitter residue of someone else's past? Their talents and accomplishments are impressive in and of themselves, and they deserve their own shot at glory. It would be hard to fit our sentiments onto even the most carefully painted sign, but perhaps we'll show up at the Comcastle tomorrow with the hope in our hearts that these dazzling young Terps will win on Monday so that we will have the joy of knowing we will get to see them play together again -- at least once more before this special season, like all seasons, ends, in triumph or its opposite.
Sleep well, women. You've got your work cut out for you, and we can't wait to cheer you on in your efforts. Peace out.
(Photo Credit: Toni L. Sandys, Washington Post. Maryland forward Alyssa Thomas shoots over Navy's Alix Membreno in a first-round game, 3/17/12.)
Update: WaPo's Gene Wang has a story this morning on the Frese/Walz "subplot" in the looming rematch between Maryland and Louisville. According to Wang, Walz's departure from College Park in 2008 was "acrimonious," though Frese refused to comment on the matter, saying it was not important to the upcoming game. Reading between the lines, one might infer that Walz took a little too much credit for the national championship, including orchestrating the play that sent the title game into overtime. In this YouTube video of Marissa Coleman and other former players talking about that game, Coleman makes it clear that Toliver's sublime shot over Duke center Alison Bales was not the play coaches had drawn up. After the 2009 loss to Louisville, Coleman also publicly took issue with Walz's suggestion that Maryland's body language suggested the team was taking Louisville lightly as it focused on getting back to the Final Four. "Well, Coach Walz was wrong," Coleman commented when told what Walz had said.
Like we said, dude's got an Auriemma complex. We don't care what motivates the Terps to go out and get the W tonight. We just want them to win, but if it turns out the victory is fueled by a collective gynocentric urge to smack down an arrogant, bullying mansplainer, well, that's all right by us. We are women, hear us roar. Go, Terps!