BOSTON – They feared nothing. Maybe the Maryland Terrapins were too young to know better, to know that nobody improves so quickly in women's basketball, that nobody goes to overtime six times in one season away from home – and wins every time.
Maryland cheated death one more time Tuesday night, beating Duke in a national championship game that it led for all of 75 seconds (including overtime). It did so despite playing more poorly in the first half than it could remember, at least this season.
"Towards the end of the game at halftime, my teammates – we all just talked and said we have been in this position a million times before this season," Marissa Coleman said.
It's a telling quote. Before this season, Maryland hadn't enjoyed a winning ACC record in nine years. It was a program that knew how to lose. But maybe the Terps simply just forgot how, or maybe the two freshman starters, Coleman and super-clutch Kristi Toliver, defied the conventional wisdom and instilled a confidence that once was lacking.
In the time that Duke has made four Final Fours, the Terps have been 22 games under .500 in conference play (and that includes a 12-2 mark this year). But the Blue Devils still are waiting for a title now that the Terps stole away this one.
Of course, most of the Terps played in junior high school when Duke started dominating the ACC. Maryland has the kind of youth that makes pundits wonder not how the turtles won this race but rather how many times they can beat the hares of women's college hoops.
"You hope that we're building a dynasty here," said head coach Brenda Frese, who was a senior in high school the last time Maryland had made the Final Four (1989). "But each and every season defines its own.
"I don't think you can put any different, added pressures and expectations."
But pundits will. The Terps' two seniors, Charmaine Carr and Angel Ross, played a combined 41 minutes in the tourney and scored four points.
"Everyone has hopes of coming in and changing the program or at least contributing," Carr said. "But to be honest I never thought I would be here, speaking to you all after winning the national championship."
It almost didn't happen. Duke's Jessica Foley hit a three-pointer with 14 minutes, 53 seconds left to stake the Blue Devils to their biggest lead, 45-32. Only one team (Louisiana Tech in 1988) ever had overcome a larger deficit in a championship game.
That was when Kristi Toliver was 1.
The freshman had suffered through a 12-turnover semifinal and a 1-of-9 shooting performance in the first half. Yet that didn't prevent her from wanting to take the shot that will be replayed forever, a three-pointer over 6-foot-7 Alison Bales with six seconds left in regulation that tied the score.
"In my opinion, big-time players want the ball in big-time situations," Toliver said matter-of-factly.
It was just one of a handful of tough shots in the Terps' second-half surge, but it was as tough as any and it was, well, a big-time situation.
"You know, Kristi Toliver, being a freshman, that was a huge shot for her," Bales said. "She was behind the line a good step at least. To win a championship, you have to be able to hit big shots and Maryland did that today."
Though Duke coach Gail Goestenkors didn't think her players were frustrated during Maryland's comeback, she conceded that "when Toliver hit that shot at the end of regulation, that was tough for us."
And terrific for Maryland.
"When Kristi hit that shot, we all went crazy in the huddle," Coleman said. "Overtime is our time."
But the Terps didn't own overtime. Maryland didn't regain the lead until Toliver hit two free throws with 34 seconds left and couldn't celebrate until Jessica Foley's desperation three-pointer harmlessly clanged off the front of the rim.
"This is the best feeling I've ever had in my life," Tolliver said.
The Terps quickly made their way toward the fans that never lost hope even as Maryland had fallen so far behind. Even their fans had no fear.
But now, all of women's college basketball has reason to fear the turtle.
- Maryland Terrapins
- Kristi Toliver