ESPN experts: Maryland's X-factors
BOSTON -- So how do you knock out the No. 1 overall seed? ESPN's experts in Boston helped us figure out the biggest X-factors in Maryland's 81-70 victory over North Carolina on Sunday:
North Carolina star Ivory Latta played with no enthusiasm or energy. She never attacked the rim or established herself. At halftime, she was 3-for-7 from the field, then had attempted only two more shots at the midway point of the second half. She never got into any sort of rhythm. When you're in the Final Four, you have to go out with your guns blazing, but Latta rarely even looked to attack the rim.
The Terps also were able to break down the Tar Heels' 1-3-1 zone from the start, and though Maryland freshman point guard Kristi Toliver committed 12 turnovers, she never seemed frazzled and played with the sort of swagger we usually see in Latta. Toliver continuously backed into La'Tangela Atkinson at the top of the zone, which spread out Carolina's defense and allowed Terps posts Crystal Langhorne and Laura Harper to crash the bottom of the zone from each side. Toliver fed them early and often with sharp, crisp passes, helping the duo score a combined 47 of Maryland's 50 points in the paint.
Maryland knew it had to win the battle of the boards, and Marissa Coleman was the best rebounder on the floor Sunday night, which is saying something considering how good North Carolina's Erlana Larkins was. Coleman also had seven assists and only two turnovers in 36 minutes, and that is pretty amazing for a freshman playing at the Final Four.
Sophomore post Laura Harper was my X-factor. She plays with great passion and energy and helped Maryland continue to be successful on the glass. Harper (Maryland's fifth-leading scorer this season) finished with a career-high 24 points on 8-for-16 shooting and added nine rebounds, including six on the offensive end. The Terps got multiple-shot opportunities and were able to spread North Carolina out. And even in the face of 26 turnovers, the Terps won it by competing on the glass and winning the battle on the boards.
Freshman point guard Kristi Toliver had 12 turnovers but was at her best when she was generating offense for herself. All those turnovers came when she tried to pass it.
Maryland played with such an aggressive style on the inside. You expect that from Crystal Langhorne, but then Laura Harper delivered a huge game and helped the Terps outplay North Carolina's frontline. Coming into the game, I thought whichever guards were able to feed their posts better would come out the winner. Maryland was able to do that. And down the stretch, when UNC's Ivory Latta usually steps up and makes big plays, the Terps wouldn't let her do it.
It takes a lot of athletic ability to overcome 26 turnovers, and the overall athleticism and aggressiveness of Maryland's frontline was the difference. North Carolina also helped feed Maryland's aggressiveness by failing to take advantage of an opponent's early nervousness and continued carelessness.