Maryland Outduels North Carolina, 95-84, Advances To ACC Championship
March 7, 2009
GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP)-- Marissa Coleman and Kristi Toliver have done just about everything in four years at Maryland -- with one notable exception. One more victory, and they'll take care of that one, too.
The fourth-ranked Terrapins ended North Carolina's dominance of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament on Saturday with a 95-84 victory in the semifinals. In the process, they put themselves into position to claim their first league title in two decades.
"This team's on a mission: We want to win the ACC championship," Coleman said.
Coleman scored 29 points, Toliver -- the ACC's player of the year -- had 25 and rookie of the year Lynetta Kizer finished with 15 for the top-seeded Terrapins (27-4). They have won 11 straight and 14 of 15, advancing to their first league championship game since 2006 by snapping four-time defending champ North Carolina's 13-game winning streak in the event.
Maryland will face either Duke (No. 10 ESPN/USA Today, No. 8 AP) or Florida State (No. 13 ESPN/USA Today, No. 12 AP) in Sunday's title game. For Toliver and Coleman, freshmen in 2006 who that season helped lead the Terps to their only national title, capturing an ACC crown is the final achievement left on their to-do lists.
"When we entered this tournament, we had plans on playing three games [in] three days," Toliver said. "We came into this tournament having that mentality, and now that we're finally at the third game, it's going to be all adrenaline, all heart."
Italee Lucas had 26 points, one shy of a career high, while making five 3-pointers for the Tar Heels (26-6). They twice rallied from double-figure deficits but couldn't make enough plays down the stretch to avoid their first loss in the ACC tournament since they dropped the 2004 title game to Duke. Their attempt to become the third team -- in either gender -- to win five consecutive ACC tournament titles also is now finished.
"This is something a little different for us, but we'll learn from it," coach Sylvia Hatchell said.
Jessica Breland had 23 points and Rashanda McCants added 18 and hit a 3 with 2:36 remaining that pulled North Carolina within 83-81. Demauria Liles hit a stickback moments later, and Toliver followed with two free throws and an 18-foot jumper to finally give the Terrapins a sizeable lead that they couldn't blow.
"When they came back on us, we knew that our offense was so good that we were going to get it back," Toliver said. "Once we did get it back, we knew we had to keep it that way, because they can get back on you in a hurry with their transition."
Toliver was just 6-of-17 from the field but 13-for-13 from the free-throw line for the Terrapins, who took the lead for good on Kizer's layup with 11 minutes left, a key bucket that came during a run of 11 straight points.
They finished with a 41-34 rebounding advantage, turned North Carolina's 19 turnovers into 31 points and -- with Toliver and Coleman repeatedly drawing contact as they shot -- made more than twice as many free throws (29) as the Tar Heels attempted (13).
"I got real frustrated, I'll admit that," Hatchell said. "I don't know if anybody in the league could keep them off the foul line, because we sure couldn't."
Kim Rodgers finished with 11 points for Maryland, which denied North Carolina's attempt to reach the title game for the eighth straight year by claiming its second victory over the Tar Heels this season.
The Terrapins -- who won 77-71 two months ago in College Park -- went up by double figures for the second time shortly after halftime with a 14-0 run that spanned the break and led 50-38 on Coleman's jumper with 18 minutes left.
But if nothing else, the Tar Heels showed remarkable resilience in rallying from deep deficits.
They came back from 12 down early in the second half by scoring on 11 consecutive trips downcourt during a 25-9 run that included Lucas' third banked-in 3-pointer of the day and was capped by her free throw with 13:17 remaining that put her team up 63-61.
Earlier, North Carolina's reinvigorated defense forced the Terrapins into a serious cold spell midway through the first half. Maryland missed 11 of 12 shots in a 9-minute stretch while allowing the Tar Heels to rally from a 13 down.
Nearly every bounce fell North Carolina's way during that 24-6 run. Lucas banked in a pair of 3s, including one while drawing contact from Marah Strickland, and converted the four-point play that gave the Tar Heels their largest lead, 35-30, at the 5-minute mark.
"To beat Maryland, you've got to outscore them," Hatchell said. "They can score. And you can too, on them. They're just so offensive-minded. ... They're going to score points."