COLLEGE PARK -- Five seconds before tip-off yesterday, as No. 6 Maryland locked eyes with No. 2 Duke for the first time, it seemed as if anything were possible for the Terps women's basketball team.
The pep band was blasting the school fight song, a large crowd at Comcast Center was going bonkers and Maryland's players seemed loose, confident and ready. Coach Brenda Frese had a grin on her face that could rival a jack-o'-lantern's. A watershed moment in the rebirth of the women's basketball program, which had won 10 straight, seemed very much within reach.
Unfortunately for Frese and the Terps, the day probably peaked then. Though 16,097 people - the second-largest crowd in Atlantic Coast Conference women's history - showed up eager to witness the first matchup of top 10 women's teams in College Park since 1993, Duke sucked most of the excitement out of the building early, dominating defensively and scoring relentlessly in an 86-68 victory.
It was the 13th straight time the Blue Devils (14-0, 3-0) have defeated the Terps, and other than a spirited second-half run by Maryland (14-2, 1-1) that cut the lead to nine, this one really wasn't that close. Duke shot 58 percent from the field and scored 28 points off 24 Maryland turnovers.
The Blue Devils led 22-20 with 8:30 left in the first half, but outscored the Terps 23-6 over the next seven minutes, helping them to take a 17-point lead into the locker room.
"They were really aggressive on defense," said Maryland junior guard Shay Doron, who finished with 12 points and nine turnovers. "They got their hands on a lot of passes and made passes a lot harder than they usually are."
Just how impressive was Duke? When its starting center, 6-foot-7 junior Alison Bales, got into foul trouble in the first half, Bales' backup, Chante Black, came into the game, controlled the paint on offense and defense and scored a career-high 19 points. It was the second straight year that Black has burned the Terps off the bench. Last time the two teams faced each another, a 74-44 Duke victory, Black had 14 points and 13 rebounds
"Duke has a tremendous amount of depth," Frese said. "They can defend and score well, and they just play a complete game. This was a credit to their defense."
Duke and Maryland came into the game ranked first and second in the country in scoring, but it was obvious, even early when the game was close, that the Blue Devils were getting more easy baskets. Duke guard Lindsey Harding, who was suspended last season for a violation of team rules, hit nearly every shot she took (seven of nine from the field, four of four on free throws) on her way to 19 points. Monique Currie added 18 points.
"Everyone on this team wants to score," Harding said. "When we get open looks, we are going to take those shots."
There were far fewer open looks on the other end of the court, and Duke swarmed Maryland in the post with two and sometimes three defenders after each entry pass. It made for a frustrating game for Terps sophomore center Crystal Langhorne, who came in averaging 15.8 points and a team-best 9.1 rebounds but finished with 10 points and no rebounds.
"We didn't target Langhorne specifically," said Duke coach Gail Goestenkors when asked about Duke's domination inside. "Obviously she is their leading rebounder, but they are all great rebounders. We just knew we had to do a great job rebounding and boxing out."
Goestenkors - who said after the game she thinks this is the best team she has had in 14 years at Duke - dismissed the suggestion that the Blue Devils might have gotten into the heads of Maryland's players recently.
"We don't have a mental edge over Maryland. We just have more experience," said Goestenkors, whose program has made it to the Elite Eight the past four years. "Every game we play, both teams will gain experience."
Frese remained positive and upbeat after the game, thanking the fans and urging them to return, then smiling and laughing during the news conference. She insisted that this wasn't a setback for Maryland, only another step in a long journey. She pointed out that Kristi Toliver came off the bench and hit four three-pointers, including one that cut Duke's lead to 62-53 with 8:26 to play, and said she was proud of her team for not quitting.
"This game is going to make us better in the long term," Frese said. "We just have to keep working hard. There will come a day when we'll beat them."