Confidence the key to Terps' win
BOSTON -- Maryland always thought it was going to win. That confidence -- instilled by coach Brenda Frese -- was the difference in Tuesday night's title game against Duke. The Terps know their coach is behind them and that it's OK if they miss a shot or make a turnover. And whether down by 13 points or two points, the Terps played the same. They weren't surprised when they took over the lead. They almost seemed to expect it.
Duke didn't do anything wrong. The Blue Devils couldn't play as aggressively and got a little stagnate after Monique Currie and Lindsey Harding drew their third fouls -- Currie with 17:57 to play and Harding at 14:12. And they probably should have kept going inside to Alison Bales late in the second half. That had worked all night and with four fouls, Maryland post Crystal Langhorne wasn't likely to stop her.
But Maryland just came with big stuff at the right time. The Terps never flinched, relying on freshmen Kristi Toliver and Marissa Coleman to force overtime and then seal the deal with four clutch foul shots in the extra period. Toliver's 3-pointer that forced overtime will go down as one of the biggest shots in women's NCAA Tournament history, yes, even rivaling Charlotte Smith's buzzer-beater in 1994 that led UNC to the ACC's first -- and only other -- title.
Still, for as great as Maryland's guards were, a key adjustment Frese made at halftime helped make those shots possible.
In the first half, Toliver did a poor job running her team and getting her teammates involved. She shot 1-for-9 for the half and that was almost one-third of the Terps shots. Instead of taking lower-percentage shots from the perimeter, Toliver should have helped establish Langhorne in the paint. Granted, Langhorne needed to make some adjustments, too -- fight harder for some isolation, make some counter moves and then re-post -- but, even against Duke's great defense, there's no way Langhorne should be held to just one shot attempt in the first half.
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But in the second, Langhorne and her frontcourt mate Laura Harper took eight of Maryland's first 15 shots; Toliver attempted only four in that same period -- and began running her team the way she has all season. And slowly, Maryland started trimming away at Duke's lead.
The key, though, was putting Harper on the high post and, instead of being tight on the low block, Langhorne moved farther out to the mid-post. That prevented Duke, which was playing great defense, from going hard on the double team down low because the distance between Maryland's two posts was greater. That also meant Harper could find Langhorne more easily at the front of the rim and that Harper wasn't facing such tight defense.
Although Frese made some great adjustments, the ability to hit clutch shots can't be taught. Toliver and Marissa Coleman did an excellent job of creating shots off the dribble, which is hard enough but even tougher when you've had an off-shooting night. Toliver and Coleman finished a combined 10-for-30 from the field after sinking just two total field goals in the first half. But down the stretch Tuesday, they made pressure shots, either driving inside or hitting seemingly impossible fadeaway jumpers with a hand in their face.
Harding played an unbelievable first half and really set the tone early for Duke, scoring a game-high 13 points on 6-for-8 shooting from the field. Harding routinely penetrated the lane and hit layups and short jump shots as Maryland failed to make adjustments to slow her. The back side of the defense should be in an I-formation, but the Terps' defenders kept getting split. The weak-side rotation to the front of the rim never happened. And really, Maryland should have been more aggressive with Harding, who had to make only one trip to the foul line in the first 20 minutes. The Terps never physically sent her a message -- until the second half.
Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.