Bedeviling

After beating Duke en route to their first NCAA title, the Terps now feel they have the edge against their top rivals.

January 13, 2007|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN REPORTER

COLLEGE PARK -- At some point this afternoon, Maryland sophomore Kristi Toliver might receive the ultimate form of validation for her young career: getting booed at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Duke fans, while generally hostile to all opponents, save their best venom for opposing players who have damaged them, or those from North Carolina. Considering that Toliver made a three-pointer near the end of regulation of the national championship game last April to force overtime, in which the Terps eventually won, she might have become Public Enemy No. 1 in Durham, N.C.

And Toliver is OK with that.

"It [the crowd reaction] will be different than it was last year, playing at their place," Toliver said. "Obviously, they weren't nice to us last year, but this year, I think they're going to bring their best weapons and material that they have. You know, the crazy Dukies.

"I anticipate their crowd being like the men's crowds they have, harassing and heckling the opponent. But I think it will be that much more fun to play in that environment. But everywhere we go, we get people mad at us."

That's to be expected with Maryland's record of 18-0 (2-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) and its overall streak of 24 straight wins, the longest in the nation, not to mention its No. 1 ranking.

But because the Terps snatched the national title from the Blue Devils (17-0, 3-0 in the ACC) in such a dramatic manner, after trailing by as many as 13 in the second half, today's game against No. 3 Duke might carry an extra meaning beyond most other early season conference games.

"I don't want to say we want to redeem ourselves, because it is a new year, but we have something to prove, to others, but mostly to ourselves," Duke sophomore Abby Waner told SI.com this week.

When the horn sounded at TD Banknorth Garden last April, perhaps no one was happier to be part of the outcome than senior Shay Doron, not just because of the championship, but which team it came against.

Before last season's ACC tournament semifinal, Duke had beaten Maryland 14 straight times over six seasons.

Doron had been present for only eight of the losses, but they all stung just the same.

"I said last year when we won, all the losses we've ever lost to Duke [are] wiped away with one win," Doron said earlier this week. "That [the 78-75 overtime victory] was the most important win in our program's history, and that was one of the most important losses in their program's history."

One of the losses that hurt most, Doron said, was one that came in the 2004 ACC tournament semifinal in Greensboro, N.C., where the Terps led by as many as eight points in the second half before the Blue Devils took the lead for good with less than six minutes left before going on to win, 70-63.

"I felt like a couple of things didn't go our way, us being in North Carolina and stuff," said Doron, who had 19 points off the bench. "But I felt like we totally could have had that game. That was one of the more frustrating losses to Duke."

Now, as the teams prepare to meet today for the first time since the national title game, what had been a psychological edge for the Blue Devils might have shifted to the Terps, just in time for a showdown between two of the top three teams in the country.

"I don't know if you say that a two-game win streak is a shift," Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. "Obviously, you'd love to shift it [momentum] in the other direction. I do know that both teams make each other better."

The Terps broke the Duke hex in last season's ACC tournament semifinals, as they built a 15-point advantage, watched the Blue Devils go on a 16-0 run to take the lead, then came back to win, 78-70.

"After doing the same thing at Duke [in a 90-80 loss at Cameron in February] and blowing the lead and the game, we kind of learned from those things," Doron said. "We learned to be more poised. That's why you play and you learn from that. We ended up with a win because of that."

Said Duke coach Gail Goestenkors: "That [the ACC tournament win] was huge. They needed to get over that mental hump. That allowed them to have the confidence to believe that they could come back in the championship game. You've got to win one before you can have that mental confidence."

Still, karma and streaks aside, the Terps have won only once in Durham since the 1992-93 season, a 63-62 victory in February 2000 that immediately preceded the 14-game losing streak.

At least this time, Maryland will go into the Devils' den with momentum and a bona fide villain.

"Now that this university has this chip off its shoulder ... for me, I'm 2-2 [against Duke] and I feel pretty good about playing them," Toliver said. "I think we match up well with them. It's always going to be entertaining because we're two talented, competitive teams. I think we'll do that."

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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