March 05, 2006

(4) Maryland 78, (2) Duke 70

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Crystal Langhorne couldn't contain her excitement. Finally, after losing 14 games in a row to Duke, the fourth-ranked Maryland Terrapins had won.

And Langhorne yelled it to her teammates before they even got to the locker room.

"I think it was like 10 seconds after the game," quipped her coach, Brenda Frese.

No one would blame the Terrapins for savoring this one.

Laura Harper had 17 points, Marissa Coleman added 16 points and 13 rebounds and Maryland beat the second-ranked Blue Devils 78-70 Saturday in the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference women's tournament.

Kristi Toliver also scored 16 points for the Terrapins (28-3), who advanced to Sunday's final against No. 1 North Carolina. Earlier this season, they gave the Tar Heels their only loss in a thrilling game that was decided in overtime.

"It definitely gives us confidence, but at the same time, they want revenge," Harper said. "So we're going to have to play an even better game than we did at their place."

Perhaps that matchup can satisfy fans who were hoping to see North Carolina and Duke decide the ACC championship for the a fifth consecutive year in the heart of Tobacco Road. This will be Maryland's first chance at a tournament title since losing to Virginia 106-103 in triple overtime 13 years ago.

"I love it when the media continues to hype up the Carolina schools," Frese said. "This team is motivated by any challenge you give them, and they definitely responded."

Monique Currie finished with 18 points but couldn't stop the Blue Devils (26-3) from failing to advance to the final for the first time in seven years. Lindsey Harding had 16 points.

"I'm not worried," Duke coach Gail Goestenkors said. "Every time we've lost, we've learned. Now we have several days to really work on some of the things we need to, to get ready for the NCAA tournament."

Maryland appeared in command after a 15-4 run early in the second half, and Coleman was the spark. She had a 3-pointer and another jumper before dribbling through a double team for a twirling layup. When Jade Perry worked inside for another basket, the Terrapins led 53-38.

"I was just trying to help my team out," said Coleman, named the ACC's top freshman earlier this week. "I just wanted to get that win. It was a very exciting environment."

Slowly, Duke came back, with a switch from its man-to-man defense to a zone trap. Toliver, Maryland's freshman point guard, had trouble finding open teammates to start the offense, and five straight possessions ended in turnovers.

The Blue Devils turned almost all of them into points on the other end. Currie made a 3, then converted a steal by Wanisha Smith into a three-point play. Smith's long pass led Currie perfectly, and after scoring, she leaped to bump chests with Smith.

And Duke wasn't finished. Smith got a nifty feed from Harding on an in-bounds play to make it 16 unanswered points, and suddenly, the Terrapins trailed 54-53.

"I was thinking, 'Thanks goodness we had a cushion,' because we did have some breakdowns," Frese said. "All the credit goes to Duke."

Crystal Langhorne quickly put them back in front, Harper had five points in less than 60 seconds and Langhorne worked free again in the paint to help Maryland resume control. The Blue Devils only got as close as six points down the stretch.

"They did a great job of moving the ball, going inside and outside, and knocking down the shots," Harding said. "Especially knocking down the big shots when they counted."

The outcome might have been enough to give the Terrapins a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, while Duke can only hope the committee rewards it for another stellar regular season.

"I think that speaks for itself," Frese said of winning. "It's up to the selection committee. But I said this going into the tournament: the biggest thing we can do is win, and put yourself in the championship game. It speaks volumes for this team."

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