Shell-shocker

Down 13, young Terps force OT, topple Duke for first national title

Maryland 78 Duke 75

Ncaa Women

April 05, 2006|By MILTON KENT | MILTON KENT,SUN REPORTER

BOSTON -- The Maryland players were a bit late coming into the post-game interview room last night at TD Banknorth Garden. Their coach, Brenda Frese, had already started to dissect how the Terps had captured the school's first women's basketball championship in the program's more than 30-year history, when they finally arrived.

The brashness of their youth and their total inability to comprehend what they had done showed through as freshman Marissa Coleman came up the stairs of the raised platform and planted the national championship trophy -- earned in an overtime 78-75 win over Duke -- down on the table like it was just another piece of hardware.

And for the five starters -- two freshmen, two sophomores and one junior -- bringing home a title felt like the natural thing to do, mostly because they are way too young to understand what they've accomplished.

"Everyone's game should come out in the tournament," said sophomore forward Laura Harper. "And the Maryland girls are just hot right now. And that's the best way to describe it."

Indeed, while Harper earned Most Outstanding Player honors for the Final Four with 16 points and seven rebounds, to follow her 24-point night in Sunday's semifinal win over North Carolina, she was just one piece of a remarkable five-headed scoring monster, as all five Maryland starters scored in double figures.

"Every player stepped up so big and in different games and that's what makes our team so dangerous," said junior guard Shay Doron, who had 16 points. "You can't really pick out one player that is outstanding, but obviously we all are. This team is so deadly at every single position, which is why we won the national championship."

And all of them contributed at the most important moments. Harper and center Crystal Langhorne, though bottled up by Duke's taller interior in the first half, stayed solid throughout.

Doron, whose shoulder was hurt late in regulation, scored the first four Maryland points in the overtime to keep the Terps (34-4) above water against a Duke team (31-4) that had had their number 14 straight times until the Atlantic Coast Conference semifinals.

But it was the freshmen, point guard Kristi Toliver and Coleman, who had 10 points and 14 rebounds, who paced the way down the stretch and into overtime, as the Terps overcame a 13-point second-half deficit -- the second largest in the 25-year history of the NCAA championship game -- to force an overtime, the sixth Maryland had played -- and won --all season.

Toliver, who in Sunday's semifinal win over top-ranked North Carolina committed 12 turnovers, had 16 points last night, including the unlikely three-pointer that tied the score at 70 with 6.1 seconds left in regulation.

She then hit the game-winning free throws with 34.2 seconds remaining in the overtime.

With about 10 seconds to go, on the final Maryland possession of regulation, Toliver, who had hit a short jumper in the lane with 25.1 seconds to go, curled to the right side through screens from Coleman and Langhorne, and launched a three-pointer over Duke junior Alison Bales, who at 6 feet 7 is the tallest Duke player.

The shot hit nothing but net.

"Jeffrey [Walz, Maryland assistant coach] had set the play to have me go off one screen and then pass and flare off another," Toliver said. "But in my opinion, big-time players want the ball in big-time situations. So, I wanted to take the shot. She [Bales] is very long, and I knew if I got it over her, it felt pretty good. So, as soon as it left my hands, I knew it was going in.'`

Said Duke coach Gail Goestenkors: "They have some great shooters. We know Toliver has hit a bunch of big shots, but they've got so many [good shooters]. We really had to play everybody. And we switched on all screens, because we knew they were going to set some screens on the ball to try to get somebody open, and Ali [Bales] ended up on Toliver, and she had to shoot over a 6-7 person and she did."

In the overtime, after the teams traded baskets, Bales missed the second of two foul shots with 47 seconds left. Toliver sank two free throws with 34 seconds remaining. Duke's Abby Waner missed a jumper, and Coleman was fouled. She hit her two free throws and Maryland had its victory margin.

After the horn sounded, and the team converged on the floor, a wild celebration began, one so raucous that former Maryland running back LaMont Jordan, a major financial supporter of the Terps women's team, hugged athletic director Debbie Yow with an intensity that might only have been surpassed if Jordan, a member of the Oakland Raiders, had won the Super Bowl.

A year ago, Coleman and Toliver had sat in the stands in Indianapolis, during the Final Four, daring to believe that 12 months later, they would do something so audacious as win it all.

"At one point, and I don't remember which game it was, I just said, `We're going to be here next year and we're going to win a national championship,' " Coleman said.

Out of the mouths of babes come championships.

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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