Terps' cure: Final Four

UM survives illness, Utes to win regional final in OT

Maryland 75 Utah 65

Ncaa Women

Albuquerque Regional

March 28, 2006|By EDWARD LEE | EDWARD LEE,SUN REPORTER

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- The Utah women's basketball team nearly crashed Maryland's party at the NCAA tournament.

The Terps withstood a gritty effort from the Utes, a stomach virus that affected several players and lackluster performances from a few to outlast Utah, 75-65, in overtime before a pro-Utes crowd of 6,823 in the Albuquerque Regional final at Bob King Court at the University of New Mexico last night.

Maryland ( 32-4), the No. 2 seed in the regional, earned its first appearance in the Final Four in 17 years. In their previous two trips in 1982 and 1989, the Terps were bounced in the national semifinals. In 1978, Maryland was a national finalist in the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women tournament.

The Terps will face Atlantic Coast Conference rival North Carolina or Tennessee in the NCAA semifinals Sunday night in Boston. Those teams meet tonight in the Cleveland Regional final.

But Maryland's coronation as a Final Four participant was almost canceled as Utah ( 27-7), the lowest seed (No. 5 ) to advance to the Elite Eight, battled back from a second-half deficit that reached nine points.

After freshman point guard Kristi Toliver made a jumper to give the Terps a 63-58 advantage with less than three minutes left in the game, the Utes scored the final five points to send the game into the extra session.

But sophomore Laura Harper scored the first four points in overtime and Utah could muster just two free throws from fresh man guard Morgan Warburton as Maryland improved to 5-0 in overtime contests this season.

"This team had the heart of a lion." coach Brenda Frese said. "With the adversity the team faced with the virus going around, it's hard for me to describe how big of a win this is for the program."

The Terps received a yeoman's showing from Toliver, who -- despite being one of four players affected by the virus late Sunday - scored a game-high 28 points.

Toliver, who also recorded six assists, made 10 of 22 field goals, including six of nine from behind the three-point line. Her total easily eclipsed her previous career high of 19 points set against then-No. 1 Duke on Feb. 13.

"I kind of got into the rhythm of things." Toliver said. "How it happened, I don't know, but I'm grateful and relieved."

Toliver got help from sophomore center Crystal Langhorne, who had 18 points and 11 rebounds and was named the regional's Most Outstanding Player.

The surprises came from Terps who struggled in the team's first Elite Eight appearance since 1992.

Freshman forward Marissa Coleman scored just four points on 1-for-10 shooting, and junior guard Shay Doron missed nine of 11 attempts en route to six points.

Harper, who was another player infected with the stomach virus, scored just eight points but did grab 10 rebounds.

Nursing a 30-28 lead, Maryland opened the second half with four straight points and revived memories of its regional semifinal win against 2005 national champion Baylor when the Terps began the period on a 14-2 run.

But Utah rallied behind senior forward Kim Smith. After scoring just one point and missing all six of her shots in the first half, the four-time Mountain West Conference Player of the Year scored the Utes' first 16 points and went 6-for-6 from the floor.

But Smith, who finished with 17 points and 18 rebounds, was matched by Toliver, who scored 16 of Maryland's first 26 points and basically kept the Terps in the game.

"Somebody had to step up offensively and because I was in the flow, I stepped up to take the job." Toliver said.

But in the final three minutes, Maryland missed its last four shots, and Utah senior guard Shona Thornburn was fouled with 7.8 seconds left and the Terps leading 63-62.

Thornburn, who had made her first four free-throw attempts, missed the first one before connecting on the second. Maryland missed two more shots before the final buzzer sounded, but Thornburn agonized over the missed free throw.

"I had the two biggest free throws of my life, and I tied the game." she said through tears. "It crossed my mind that, "Hey, these two could put us in the Final Four." It happens."

After Harper made back-to-back layups to open overtime and give the Terps a 67-63 lead, Warburton converted two free throws with 2:08 left.

But Utah missed all eight of its shots in the extra session and Maryland scored the final eight points to secure the win.

Utah coach Elaine Elliott took comfort in the knowledge that her squad made its first Elite Eight appearance and was one point away from an unprecedented Final Four berth.

"We were right there." she said. "It's an awful feeling to lose and not get the next step. We were a hair away from a Final Four appearance, and that's good stuff."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.