BOSTON // Protocol holds that when the University of Maryland's alma mater is played at the end of a game, its athletic teams are to stand and sing, or at least acknowledge the music.
As the horn sounded and the Terps women's basketball team reveled in its 81-70 win over North Carolina in last night's national semifinal, protocol went right out the window. The young Maryland players eschewed the music and jumped and shouted and gesticulated, urging their fan section at TD Banknorth Garden to join in their joy.
It was about the only time all evening the Terps, who start two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior, showed any lack of emotional control, as they stayed focused and withstood a furious attack from the nation's top-ranked team to earn a berth in tomorrow night's championship game against LSU or Duke.
"We just proved to the country that we should be the No. 1 team," freshman point guard Kristi Toliver said. "We proved to everyone that we're capable of beating North Carolina and that we're a great team. Everyone is extremely excited. People can't sit still. I'm about to burst. Everyone is very happy right now."
Four Maryland starters scored in double figures and the one who didn't, junior guard Shay Doron, made the most of her eight points, with all but one of them coming in the second half. Doron's jumper with 1:58 left, on a play where she had nearly stumbled and turned the ball over, gave Maryland a 73-68 lead, after the Tar Heels had sliced an 11-point deficit to two.
"I had that same opportunity the first half and I kind of read it wrong and tried to give it to Crystal [Langhorne] and it was a turnover," Doron said. "At halftime, the coaches were like, 'That's your shot. It goes in every time, so shoot that with confidence.'" Maryland (33-4) did nearly everything right, shooting 56 percent for the game - 65 percent in the second half - and outrebounding the Tar Heels (33-2) by 41-31, as they advanced to play in the school's first NCAAwomen's national title game.
The 1977-78 Maryland team lost to UCLA in the final of the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, which largely governed women's athletics before the NCAA took over in 1982.
This season's Terps were ranked 14th in the preseason Associated Press poll, then moved steadily up the rankings, climbing as high as their current No. 3 perch. Last night, they gained some well-earned respect by standing toe-to-toe with a very physical Tar Heels team, taking their best punch and delivering a couple as well.
"All season long, this team has played with a chip on their shoulder and I really felt like they have had to fight for respect every step of the way," said Maryland coach Brenda Frese. "They got a lot of believers after [last night] and the performance they put on.''
Perhaps the lack of respect for Maryland in women's circles comes from the fact that four years ago, in Frese's first season, the Terps were 10-18. Quickly, however, Frese has built a power with back-to-back top-five recruiting classes.
The top four members of those two classes, sophomores Langhorne and Laura Harper and freshmen Marissa Coleman and Kristi Toliver, played important roles in Maryland's success last night.
Harper had a team-high 24 points and nine rebounds, doing exceptional work on the offensive glass, where she had six of Maryland's 13 offensive rebounds.
"Carolina has so manyweapons, and so do we," Harper said. "I just wanted to play confidently and have fun out there and that's what I did. I just had fun.'
Her frontcourt mate, Langhorne, a second-team Associated Press All-America, who was passed over Saturday by the Women's Basketball Coaches Association's Kodak All-America team, seemed to take the slight out on North Carolina, with 16 of her 23 points in the first half.
Coleman, the Atlantic Coast Conference's Rookie of the Year, had 12 points and 14 rebounds, pounding the boards in the second half.
"We knew going in that we were going to have to rebound," Coleman said. "We felt if we outrebounded themby 10, we'd have executed the game plan great."
Toliver, who played well in Maryland's 98-95 overtime win over the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill, but poorly in the 90-81 ACC tournament championship game loss, committed 12 turnovers last night, but scored 14 points.
More importantly, Toliver did an exceptional job defensively on North Carolina All-America guard Ivory Latta, holding the junior to 14 points on 5-for-17 shooting and a dismal 1-for-10 fromthree-point range.
"That was my job," Toliver said. "It was my main focus and all I had onmy mind. Someone had to stop Ivory, and I wanted to be the onewho did it.''
The Terps led 36-34 at halftime, but North Carolina, which had won 11 straight games, emerged from the locker room on an 8-4 run.