Shell-shocker

Young Terps rally to force OT, top Duke for 1st national title

Maryland 78 Duke 75

Ncaa Women's Final

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

BOSTON -- For months now, the Maryland women's basketball team told anyone who would listen that its youth and inexperience didn't matter, that it could get to the Final Four and even win a national title with kids barely alive the last time the school got to the national semifinals 17 years ago.

Down 13 in the second half, the Terps forced overtime in the national championship game last night against Duke on an off-bal ance three-pointer from freshman point guard Kristi Toliver. From there, the Terps, who had won their previous five overtime games all season, went on to capture the program's first national title with a gritty 78-75 win.

Toliver, who in Sunday's national semifinal win over top-ranked North Carolina committed 12 turnovers, had 16 points, includ ing the go-ahead 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 Marissa Coleman and Crystal Langhorne, and launched a three- pointer over 6-foot-7 Alison Bales. The shot hit nothing but net. The Terps still had to stop Duke defensively. Blue Devils guard Lindsey Harding ran up the right side with two Maryland players guarding her and launched a 12-footer from the baseline that rimmed off at the buzzer.

In the overtime, neither team could score for the first 2:44 before Duke's Monique Currie hit a jumper from the baseline. However, Maryland junior Shay Doron, who had suffered a shoulder injury late in regulation, hit a pair of free throws with two minutes left. Currie then hit a 15-footer with 1:35 to go, but Doron responded with a layup to tie the score.

Bales missed one of two free throws with 47 seconds left to open the door for Maryland to win. Toliver then hit her free throws, and fellow freshman Coleman hit two more with 13.4 left to give Maryland its advantage. Jessica Foley, Duke's best three-point shooter, missed a wild three near the horn and the celebration began.

The Blue Devils threw Maryland a quick, early curve, bringing a half-court trap, the likes of which had only been shown by North Carolina. The trap worked well, as Duke forced a turnover on the very first Maryland possession off the opening tip. The pressure served to rattle the Maryland offense, and force the Terps out of their rhythm, as Toliver took a couple of ill-advised jumpers and was given a quick hook by Frese.

Currie, the two-time All-American, who passed up a chance to leave Duke for the WNBA, missed her first four shots and looked rattled. But the Terps could not take advantage as the Blue Devils' defense forced their offensive sets out higher than normal. When they could find Langhorne down low, she often found herself surrounded by the taller Blue Devils interior players, Bales and 6-3 forward Mistie Williams, and unable to pass out of the double team.

Offensively, Duke, after a slow start, began to connect from the outside. Jessica Foley and Abby Waner hit back-to-back three- pointers midway through the half, and the Blue Devils had their first double-digit lead at 21-10.

Doron, who had not hit a three-pointer since Maryland's win over Sacred Heart in the first round of the tournament, hit one of two first-half threes, and Laura Harper sank a pair of foul shots at the 9:20 mark to get Maryland to within six, but that's as close as the Terps would come in the first half, as Currie had seven points in the final eight minutes to help Duke post a 38-28 halftime lead.

The Terps entered last night's contest as a five-point underdog, in keeping as much with their meteoric rise up the national polls during the season, as with their two regular-season losses to Duke, an 18-point thumping in College Park and a 10-point set back in Durham in February.

Still, not everyone was buying Maryland as an underdog, especially since the Terps gave top-ranked North Carolina their only two losses, including Sunday's 81-70 victory in the national semifinal.

"So the fact that they are playing with great freedom, they seem to have a chip on their shoulder while they have been here talking about respect and I don't think anybody now could possibly not respect them." said Duke coach Gail Goestenkors. "So it would be interesting if they can still say that because in my mind they beat the No. 1 team in the country twice. So I see them right now as the No. 1 team in the country. We're just going to go out and try and beat them."

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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