COLLEGE PARK — -- COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland women's basketball coach Chris Weller has always said that if someone came to see a well-played women's game between two well-matched opponents, that person would leave a fan for life.
All Weller generally needs to make that prediction come true is a meeting with North Carolina State, and the top-ranked Terps and unranked Wolfpack did little to let Weller down yesterday.
After nearly a full game of high-speed, well-executed basketball, Maryland escaped with a 99-90 win over a gritty N.C. State team that took everything the Terps had to offer and nearly gave Maryland as much in return.
The difference, as it has increasingly become in this magical season, was the Maryland backcourt of junior Malissa Boles and sophomore Limor Mizrachi, who combined for 45 points, including 10 of the last 14, when the Wolfpack was making a late charge.
"We have become more confident and more poised," said Boles, who had 23 points. "When they brought the score back, no one got worried."
Perhaps not worried, but a bit anxious. The Terps (18-1, 8-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) led by 15 with 11 minutes, 1 second left, then hung on as the Wolfpack (11-8, 2-6) cut the margin to three with 2:18 remaining.
From there, Maryland limited the Wolfpack to two free throws and a meaningless end-of-game layup to win its ninth straight and finish the first half of conference play undefeated.
A home crowd of 3,152 -- the second largest in Maryland women's history -- saw an efficient game where assists (52) outnumbered turnovers (26) by 2-1.
In addition, the Terps shot 59 percent. N.C. State hit 51 percent, but missed key shots down the stretch.
"I thought the kids came to play," said Wolfpack coach Kay Yow, who guided the American national team to a gold medal in the 1988 Summer Olympics. "Neither team took a lot of quick shots. Most of the time both teams worked the ball around and got good shots."
Such intensity is expected among two teams that have won a combined 12 ACC tournaments since 1976 and are only a game apart in their all-time series (State, 20-19).
Including yesterday's game, the past five between Maryland and State have been decided by nine points or fewer, and Maryland has won three of those five.
"It's a great competition, and it brings out a lot of good things in both of us," said Yow.
Weller agreed. "We have a lot of respect for N.C. State. They should be a ranked team," she said. "You can count on them being a major force in the [ACC] tournament."
Though both teams were deadly on the perimeter, with State shooting 7-for-16 from three-point range, and Maryland hit four of eight, the game was largely a measure of whose inside game would out-muscle the other.
The Wolfpack won the early battle, as senior center Rhonda Mapp, the ACC's leading scorer, had 11 of her 15 first-half points within the first 7:30, forcing Maryland junior Jessie Hicks into foul trouble.
But the Terps hung in and took a 41-39 halftime lead, after Mizrachi, who had 22 points, 10 assists and six rebounds, hit a three-pointer with 12 seconds left.
Hicks returned and scored seven points in the first seven minutes of the half, which Maryland started with a 21-10 run to break the game open.
"It was that spurt at the start of the second half that got us," said Yow. "We fought that spurt the rest of the game."
But N.C. State made it interesting. Sophomore guard Tammy Gibson came off the bench to hit four three-pointers as part of her 19 second-half points.
In addition, junior point guard Danyel Parker, who had 27 points, hit back-to-back three-pointers to get the Wolfpack to within seven with 6:18 left. When she forced a steal and hit a streaking Gibson for a layup 15 seconds later, N.C. State had nearly closed the deficit.
Mapp, who had a game-high 30 points, then hit back-to-back inside shots to cut the Maryland lead to three with 2:18 left, but the Wolfpack came up dry on their next two possessions -- including a missed three-pointer by Mapp -- and Mizrachi and Boles were converting on the other end.