In the end, Terps make sure mental beats out physical

Ncaa Women's

March 28, 2006|By RICK MAESE

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- The Utah Utes didn't slow down the Maryland women's basketball team. Illness did.

The virus that spread through the Maryland women's basketball team was evident last night but was only strong enough to slow the Terps. It couldn't stop them. Nothing could.

Now, a Terps team that seemed as if it were down to its final breath is headed to the Final Four.

This isn't a medical miracle. The Terps didn't fight off that virus, they just fought through it. By opening tip, five Terps players - two starters - had caught the bug, which included flu-like symptoms.

"It was gross." Jade Perry said.

"There was no sleeping last night." Kristi Toliver said.

"You just stayed right by the bathroom all night." Laura Harper said.

Harper had never been that sick in her life. It hurt to sit, to lie down, to stand up. The timing was terrible. No Terps could stomach the idea of entering their Elite Eight matchup with the Utes and clutching a bucket on the bench.

You want an idea how sick this team was? It hit the cheerleading squad, the band, the boosters, the administration staff. It struck five Terps players, the head coach and an assistant. Altogether, 20 members of the Terps' party were clutching their stomachs. The Marriott was like an urgent-care center.

At one point last night, you'd swear you saw Testudo sprinting for the locker room.

The lead-up to the biggest game of their lives was hardly how you"d script it. One-quarter of the team skipped out on a film ses sion the night before the game. They had to skip their shoot- around yesterday, instead spending time studying Utah and doing a walk-through in the hotel parking lot.

That parking-lot gathering was the first time the entire team had been together since their win two nights earlier over Baylor. Coach Brenda Frese did her best to quarantine the sick and contain the illness.

Were they tired last night? Sure. In the first half especially, Frese was rotating players in and out. The result was a terrible 20 minutes of basketball - one of their worst of the year.

For the final half, though, you would've needed a thermometer and a doctor's diagnosis to know that anyone was under the weather.

"It's all just mental, we figured." Perry said.

This is a Terps team that has dealt well with adversity, that knows exactly when it's time to shift gears. They began the season young and immature. By now, their age is just a footnote.

No way anyone would think Toliver was a freshman. She shoots as though she was born with a hand in her face and fearless from NBA range. She sees the floor like someone on the side lines just paused a video game.

Her stomach churned, but no one could tell.

"I kept thinking about back in the day, MJ scored 55 when he had the flu." she said. "That was my mentality: You got to play."

Her career high entering the game was 19. Last night, she fin ished with 28 - 20 of them in the second half - and dished out six assists.

She changed the game. She forced the Utes to defend the perimeter, which opened up room for Crystal Langhorne. Langhorne had a forgettable first half but a second half worth TiVoing. After scoring just four points in the first 20 minutes, she went 6-for-8 and finished the game with 18 points (and 11 rebounds).

Utah was a free throw away from sending the Terps to their doggy bags, but instead, Maryland had a final chance at the Final Four.

"Nobody had the power, but we found it." Shay Doron said. "I can't explain why or how, but we did."

That's the sign of a good team. Adversity is met with a grin. The Terps outscored the Utes 12-2 in the overtime period. They're now 5-0 in extra periods.

They danced to their locker room, ready for what's next, expecting to play two more games. Some were flush, most winded. Doron had a net draped around her neck.

If any of them were able to stop, to slow their heartbeat, to pay attention to their stomach, the Terps would know that sick feel ing is still in there. But it wasn't enough. The thought of the season ending - that's enough to really make you ill.

For good teams, the mind rules the body.

"I don't think anybody would be complaining about a stomach ache at this point." Toliver said.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

Read Rick Maese's blog at baltimoresun.com/maeseblog

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