Maryland 78, Duke 75 OT

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BOSTON (AP)—Maryland’s players celebrated on the court, laughing and hugging and bouncing up and down.

Never mind that they still had overtime to play.

“Overtime is our time,” Terrapins forward Marissa Coleman said. “What a better way to win a national championship than in overtime, which was our time all season long?”

Too young to fear the pressure and too experienced to succumb to it, the Terrapins won their first NCAA women’s title Tuesday night, coming back from a 13-point deficit to force overtime and beat Duke 78-75.

Freshman Kristi Toliver hit a 3-pointer at the end of regulation, then made two free throws with 35 seconds left in overtime to give Maryland the decisive lead.

Maryland (34-4) is 6-0 in overtime games this season—the first five on the road and the last in the championship to cap the second-largest comeback in a women’s final. It was the first time the title was determined in overtime since Tennessee beat Virginia in 1991.

Toliver’s 3-pointer at the end of regulation sent the Terrapins into a frenzy and deflated the Duke bench. But the real party came after Blue Devils guard Jessica Foley’s desperation, well-covered 3-point attempt nicked the front of the rim at the overtime buzzer.

Piling up on the court, hugging and bumping chests, the Terrapins reveled in the youth that had been the biggest doubt surrounding them coming into the tournament. Even coach Brenda Frese, who was the coach of the year at 32 and a national champion at 35, is on the precocious side.

“Age is just a number,” she said. “When you got kids that believe and they believe in each other and they’ve got that kind of confidence, you can accomplish anything as a team.”

Foley made two free throws with 18 seconds left in regulation to give Duke a 70-67 lead, then Frese called timeout to set up a play.

Toliver, who had 12 turnovers in the semifinal victory over North Carolina, brought the ball down and veered to the right. With Duke’s Alison Bales in her face and 6.1 seconds left, she lofted the 3 that would spark the first of the Terps’ two celebrations.

“And I even felt her fingertips as I was holding my follow through,” Toliver said. “So, she did a great job contesting. I just had a lot of confidence. And I knew I wanted to take the big shot so I just took it.”

Duke (31-4) opted not to call a timeout; Lindsey Harding brought the ball down the court and put up a desperation leaner from the right baseline that went off the rim.

After that, the usually frenetic Frese just let her players take over.

“I didn’t have to say a word,” said the coach, who took over a 10-18 team four years ago after winning the 2002 coach of the year award with Minnesota.

Maryland was a charter member of the Final Four 25 years ago but struggled before Frese took over the program in 2002.

“Who would have ever thought in my wildest dreams I would have gotten two rings this year?” Frese said. “One getting married and the other a national championship.”

Duke took a 75-74 lead before Toliver sank two free throws to put Maryland ahead for good. Coleman, who bounced back from Frese’s furious first-half tongue-lashing to finish with 10 points and 14 rebounds, hit the last two free throws for Maryland with 13.4 seconds left before Foley’s 3 barely hit iron.

Toliver had 16 points, four assists and just three turnovers in the title game. Final Four Most Outstanding Player Laura Harper and Shay Doron also scored 16 for the Terrapins.

All game long, Frese was walking the sideline and clapping, screaming out plays and in one case walking onto the court to rip into Coleman for the first 30 seconds of a two-minute timeout.

Coleman got the message.

After scoring just two points in the first half, the 6-foot-1 freshman battled against the 6-foot-7 Bales too keep Duke from using its inside edge to counter Maryland’s speed. And that’s when Toliver, who had to give up the ball-handling against the Tar Heels, took over.

Duke coach Gail Goestenkors wasn’t surprised to see a pair of freshmen maintain their poise.

“No, I’ve seen it too many times,” she said. “Every time they go to overtime, they’ve won.”

The loss will sting back on the Durham, N.C., campus, which is already roiling in the aftermath of a lacrosse party that led to allegations of rape and racism. Coach G failed in her fourth trip to the Final Four to add a banner at Cameron Indoor Stadium along the three won by her better-known male counterpart, Mike Krzyzewski.

“I just feel utter disappointment for my players and my seniors,” she said. “It’s killing me—not for me, but for my players.”

But her players felt just the opposite.

“I woke up knowing we were going to win this for her,” Harding said. “I wanted to win this for Coach G. I get tired of people saying she can’t win the big game.”

Monique Currie, who came back for a fifth year to try to win a title, scored 22 points for Duke, and Bales had 19 points and 12 rebounds. But Bales made just one of two free throws with 47 seconds left and the game tied 74-all.

“Right now, I don’t feel good about how things ended,” Currie said.

Updated Wednesday, Apr 5, 2006

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Maryland
M. Coleman M. Coleman
4-12,  10 Pts
14 Rebs, 2 Assists
 Duke
M. Currie M. Currie
7-16,  22 Pts
6 Rebs, 4 Assists

Team Stat Leaders

Points
Rebounds
Assists