RALEIGH, N.C. -- Louisville coach Jeff Walz couldn't quite help himself. He coached Marissa Coleman while he was an assistant at Maryland. And as he watched Coleman battle Vanderbilt on Saturday, he kept whispering advice to her from his temporary spot on press row.
Not, however, that she needed the help even if she could have heard it. It's sometimes said there are players who simply won't let their teams lose. On Saturday, Coleman was exactly that kind of player.
Walz will next have to face Coleman, as No. 1 seed Maryland survived fourth-seeded Vanderbilt 78-74. The Terps and Cardinals meet Monday night (ESPN, 7 ET) for a trip to the Final Four, and that means two of the most exciting players in the country go head-to-head: Coleman and Angel McCoughtry.
We probably thought we'd seen it all from Coleman over the years. But Saturday against Vanderbilt, she showed us more than she ever had before.
Coleman had 42 points -- 10 more than her previous career high -- and 15 rebounds in 40 minutes. She scored more points all by herself than Baylor's team (39) did earlier in the afternoon at the RBC Center. She hit a couple of 3-pointers, she drove, she hit pull-up shots, she made her free throws.
She pounded her chest a few times, and leaned over and clutched her shorts to grab her breath a few times, and was pretty much just magnificent all the time.
"What more could you say about Marissa?" Frese said before, in fact, she'd even said much of anything at all. Because that's the kind of game this was. Describing it is one thing. Actually seeing it was another.
"Down the stretch, we just couldn't stop Coleman," Vanderbilt coach Melanie Balcomb said.
It seemed like nothing short of the old Berlin Wall could have stopped her -- and we would have given her pretty good odds of scaling that, too, on this day.
"At points of the game, I was just exhausted," Coleman acknowledged. "But I just wanted to push through it. I knew if I bring the energy, my team would feed off of it."
Coleman kept alive a No. 1 seed that, more than once, looked like it was going to tumble to a team that was trying to will itself into the Elite Eight through the force of guard play.
A key injury left Vandy without a true starting post player, but it didn't leave the Commodores without heart -- they had an amazing amount of that. And they put it to use, outhustling the Terps, running their sets well and fighting for everything.
Vandy led by as many as 18 points in the first half before foul trouble for Christina Wirth and Jennifer Risper put both on the bench, and Maryland started to get its act together.
The Terps were able to cut the Vandy lead to three at the half, so it seemed like the momentum had shifted. And yet in the second half, the Commodores were still able to keep the Terps at arm's length. Vandy was still up by nine with 4:46 left in the game.
Was this how it was going to end for Coleman and Kristi Toliver, who started their careers with an NCAA title as freshmen? They were the last ACC team standing versus the last SEC team. Would they fall here, in ACC territory?
That's when Coleman, already the dominant presence in this game, soared to her greatest heights.
She got a jumper, a defensive rebound, a three-point play and a layup -- seven points in 48 seconds. It was 71-69 and a nail-biter.
"In the first half when Kristi went out with two fouls, I had to step it up as far as being more aggressive on the offensive end," Coleman said. "And in the second half, I saw heads were hanging down."
Coleman wouldn't have any of that. There was a game to win, and the rest of the Terps were along for the ride on her rocket.
Anjale Barrett had a free throw, then Demauria Liles put in a layup -- assisted by Toliver. That gave Maryland its first lead of the entire game, at the 2:07 mark.
Wirth made one free throw for the tie, then Toliver hit a layup. Wirth -- who finished her career with a great game (28 points, six rebounds) -- went to the line and made both foul shots.
Coleman had tried to stop Wirth -- asking for that assignment late in the second half -- and had done the best she could. Wirth and Risper and the rest of the Commodores had tried to stop Coleman and had to attempt to do it again. Risper had four fouls and she'd had to sit some crucial late minutes as Maryland had rallied.
Now it was all tied up, 74-74, with 42 seconds left.
Everyone knew what was coming next -- the only question was would Coleman make her shot or miss it?
She made it.
"It was definitely an emotional game -- you could see with some of the young players, in their faces, that they weren't as confident," Coleman said. "I just wanted to reinforce to them: 'We've been in this situation before.' It's no different than any other game we've played."
Now that's ice water. No different? The potential last game of her college career? Coleman most definitely did have that on her mind, but it didn't scare her. It fueled her.
"I thought it was our game," she said. "That we were just going to keep fighting. More than being in a zone, it was just more that I didn't want my career to end."
Coleman snared the rebound of Wirth's missed shot in the closing seconds. Of course she did. Risper tried to tie up the ball and got her fifth foul, ending her terrific NCAA tournament with 13 points in her last game.
Then Coleman sank both free throws to close out one of the best performances you'll ever see.
Her 42-point performance is the fifth-best all time in NCAA tournament history -- behind 50 from Lorri Bauman of Drake (that came against Maryland in 1982, by the way), Texas Tech's Sheryl Swoopes' 47 in the 1993 title game, 44 from Stanford's Candice Wiggins last year in the second round and 43 from Barbara Kennedy of Clemson in the 1982's first round.
Walz watched it end and smiled, knowing he'll have to try to slow Coleman now.
"It's going to be a great environment Monday night," he said. "I know the Maryland kids so well, helped recruit so many of them."
Coleman was one of those, of course, as was Toliver, who finished with 17 points. Nobody had seen more of Coleman's talent day in and day out than Toliver, so we'll let her have the last word on her teammate's sensational Sweet 16.
"It was a lot of fun to watch Marissa play today," Toliver said. "She put on a show, and she showed everybody in the country she has the ability to take over a game."
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com/.