Terps take title and there may be more on the way

Updated: April 5, 2006, 5:21 PM ET
By Eric Adelson | ESPN The Magazine

BOSTON -- And that is why everyone should fear the turtle.

Maryland cobbled the second greatest championship comeback ever, a 78-75 overtime thriller over Duke, out of floor burns, bone-rattling takedowns and enough sheer punishment to make Lamont Jordan wince.

Laura Harper
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaLaura Harper, rear, and Marissa Coleman also helped the Terps come from behind to beat St. John's and Utah in the NCAA Tournament.
The Terps made glamour out of clamor. There was Shay Doron holding her right arm as if it was about to fall out of its socket. There was Kristi Toliver sinking a desperate fadeaway over a 6-foot-7 Goliath to send the game to overtime. There was Marissa Coleman making free throws, Laura Harper banging for every inch, and coach Brenda Frese jutting her jaw and smiling like the biggest demon the Devils ever knew.

The Terps were supposed to be next year's team. They were supposed to be happy to be here. They were supposed to lose in the quarters, the semis, the final. They were the underdog to North Carolina and Duke, the supposed teams of destiny.

Somebody call an ambulance, because destiny is bleeding.

The Comeback started with a drawn charge. Shay Doron took it with only a little more than 15 minutes left in a game that seemed like it was long over. Of course it was Shay, the criminal justice major with a face and a game chiseled from stone. She took the hit and Monique Currie took all the pain, landing in foul trouble. Seconds later, Doron hustled the length of the court to cut a 12-point lead to 10.

She haunted Currie the rest of the night, and with 3:33 to play and Duke clutching to a four-point lead, Doron sprinted all 85 feet to chase Currie down, rip the ball from her hands, commit a foul and launch herself head-over-hightops into the camera gallery. Welcome to Terp Basketball.

Duke's 13-point lead in the second half did not vanish in a trail of fast breaks and swift passing. Remember, we're talking about turtles here. Maryland whittled it away like Andy Dufresne (think "Shawshank Redemption") with a rock hammer. A muscled layup here, a couple free throws there. Duke center Alison Bales, who seemed indestructible in the first half, couldn't carry the Blue Devils to the finish line. The Terps only stopped when Doron landed on her shoulder after a collision with Mistie Williams and had to be helped off the court. Then they started back up again. Soon Doron came back, chomping on her mouth guard. And snap! The lead was gone.

INSTANT CLASSIC
Relive the Maryland vs. Duke 2006 NCAA championship game at 9 p.m. ET Thursday on ESPN Classic.

And how did the Terps take their first lead since the game's opening minutes? By making contact, drawing a foul and sinking the free throws.

How appropriate that Toliver made the big shot that sent the game into overtime. The freshman was 6-of-18 on the night when she hit the rainbow 3 over Bales in the closing seconds of regulation. She had, what, 147 turnovers in the semifinal game? No matter. Turtles ain't pretty.

Overtime? That's Terp time. Maryland does not lose in overtime. In five road games that went into overtime before Tuesday, Maryland won them all. After regulation time ran out, the team in black rushed the court like a bunch of soccer fan hooligans. Duke's players stood in shock. Was the game over? Kinda, yeah.

In the extra session, the hare got tired and the turtle plodded along, snarling and shoving and willing its way. By now everyone knew how this race would end. Destiny showed up on the Terps' bench, wearing an eye patch and a sling.

Could the Terps have done this without Frese? So much has been said about her reputation as a carpetbagging Larry Brown in pumps. Well, the Knicks might want to call Frese now. She has won everywhere she has gone with the type of grit that gets men praised but women questioned. She came to Maryland and made a cushy and sparkling new Comcast Center into a coal furnace of sweat and toil. She stayed up until all hours studying, planning, thinking. She used the Terps' status as a third-class citizen into a rallying point. And after 40 minutes -- sorry, 45 minutes of "Shell," the newbies have their "Natty."

They did it with no Sue Bird, no Diana Taurasi, no Candace Parker or Seimone Augustus. Maryland, let's face it, has no grace at all. The Terps take the fun out of fundamental. And the team highlight reel will not make a good DVD, unless it's marketed as Ultimate Fighting.

But the team will have a highlight reel, and it ends in a celebration, and there might just be a sequel next year.

Note to Pat and Geno and Gail and Pokey: Better sleep with one eye open. Maryland is here, and there is reason to fear.

Eric Adelson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.

Eric Adelson | email

ESPN The Magazine
Eric Adelson was a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.

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