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Maryland Is Extra Excellent

Women win NCAA title by forcing overtime on late three-pointer and beating Duke, 78-75.

April 05, 2006|Mike Terry | Times Staff Writer

BOSTON — Maryland, the ultimate better-late-than-never squad and the queen of overtime, is the 2006 NCAA women's basketball champion.

After trailing Atlantic Coast Conference rival Duke for most of Tuesday's game, the Terrapins (34-4) forced overtime on a 22-foot three-point basket by freshman guard Kristi Toliver. Maryland was 6-0 in overtime this season and it would not lose the biggest game of the year, snatching a 78-75 victory from the Blue Devils in TD Banknorth Garden.

The win came at the free-throw line. Maryland only made one basket in the last five minutes, a layup by Shay Doron with 1:14 left, which tied the score for the last time, 74-74. But it made all six of its free-throw attempts. And the last four -- two by Toliver to put Maryland ahead 76-75, and two by Marissa Coleman with 13.4 seconds left -- were the difference.

In winning its first women's title, Maryland became the third straight team to win the tournament after being seeded second. It also had the second-biggest comeback in the tournament championship game, having trailed by 13 in the first half.

"I'll tell you no team deserved to lose this game," Maryland Coach Brenda Frese said. "Duke played a heck of a game, and it was a game that I always had dreamed it would be. It was super. We've got kids that believe in each other that got it done together.

"Who would have ever thought I would get two rings this year, one getting married and two a national championship. So it's pretty surreal."

Doron, Toliver and Laura Harper, the tournament's most outstanding player, had 16 points each for the Terrapins.

Duke's Monique Currie had 22 points, including four of Duke's five overtime points, and Alison Bales had 19 and 12 rebounds. But again, the Blue Devils (31-4) left the tournament with no title.

"I think Maryland had the momentum the entire second half," Currie said. "We really didn't get a chance to go on a run, and they went on a couple of runs. And they hit the big shot to take it into overtime."

An 8-0 spurt midway through the first half, punctuated by a pair of three-pointers by Jessica Foley and Abby Waner, gave Duke what it wanted -- a double-digit lead, 21-10. That allowed the Blue Devils to mix the tempo, alternating between slashing drives to the basket by Lindsey Harding (16 points) and the 10-passes-before-they-shoot half-court attack. Duke would lead by as many as 13, at 34-21, before settling for a 38-28 halftime lead.

Maryland looked anything but settled. The Terrapins were clearly annoyed by Duke's hands-on defense that slapped at the ball and occasionally arms. When they did get free of the pressure, they struggled to make shots, making 10 of 31 (32.3%).

Duke wasn't all that much better, making 13 of 34 (38.2%). But the Blue Devils seemed in control. And Maryland was going to have to do something major to take that control away.

The break came with 14:12 left to play and Duke still up, 45-34. Crystal Langhorne, Maryland's leading scorer, who ended up with 12 points, had been quiet through the double-team efforts of Bales and Mistie Williams. But she picked up a loose ball near midcourt, drove in for a layup, was fouled and completed the three-point play.

"That play jump-started us," Frese said. "It got us our emotion and our energy. Our defensive intensity really picked up after that."

Over the next eight-plus minutes, Maryland outscored Duke, 25-13, to take a 59-58 lead. Duke was shaken, but did reestablish a three-point lead, 70-67, with 18 seconds to play.

That was more than enough time for Toliver to zip into the frontcourt and, following a timeout, fling in the long jump shot that went cleanly through the nets and deep into Duke's soul.

"In my opinion, big-time players want the ball in big-time situations," Toliver said. "I just saw an opening and I saw Alison Bales step up. She's 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."

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