Terps' confidence, Duke fouls changed game
BOSTON -- Just how did Maryland come back to beat Duke 78-75 for its first national championship on Tuesday? How did the Terps overcome a 13-point deficit -- the second largest comeback in NCAA title game history -- to deny their ACC rival?
|Relive the Maryland vs. Duke 2006 NCAA championship game at 9 p.m. ET Thursday on ESPN Classic.|
And with five players in double figures and three Terps tied at 16 points, was Maryland's Laura Harper the right choice as Final Four most outstanding player? ESPN's experts have the answers:
All season long, Brenda Frese has been able to put this belief system into her players that, regardless of circumstance, they have the talent and will make plays in the end to win the game.
Duke was in the right defense at the end of regulation. They were blitzing, which is the defense where they switch off screens. There was just a brief hesitation where Alison Bales got on her heels. The Blue Devils only had to contest the 3, but they gave it up to Kristi Toliver, who nailed it and sent the game into overtime. And Maryland has said all year, overtime is the Terps' time.
Toliver, who grew up around the NBA because her dad is an NBA official, brings a confidence and comfort level to the table. She was never shaken in any moment in this Final Four. If you watch her in practice, she takes that side-step fadeaway jump shot a lot. She's somebody who has had to create space to get her jump shot off her whole life and made good use of it Tuesday.
Maryland's Laura Harper was huge in both games and her ability to get on the glass was monumental. But I thought at the very least Maryland's Marissa Coleman should have been on the all-tournament team.
In the second half, Monique Currie and Lindsey Harding got into foul trouble, which forced the Blue Devils to scale back on their defensive aggressiveness that had been so effective in the first half. Maryland did a great job of taking advantage of the fact Currie and Harding couldn't pressure the Terps quite as much on the ball. That changed the whole game. Duke had nine steals in the first half but only two in the second half.
Maryland freshman Marissa Coleman was my Final Four most outstanding player. She was the difference for Maryland on the boards and made key shots in both games.
Sometimes basketball is a remarkably simple game, where the team that wins just does a better job of getting the ball through the net. And for all the analysis of the roots Maryland's mental toughness and Duke's breakdown, that was the case during Maryland's rally and eventual overtime win in the title game. The win was about Shay Doron knocking down 3-pointers, Marissa Coleman hitting fadeaways jumpers with a hand in her face and Kristi Toliver draining the biggest shot of her life over the outstretched arms of 6-foot-7 Alison Bales, the biggest player on the court. Maryland made the shots, Duke didn't.
Someone had to win most outstanding player and Laura Harper, the team's leading scorer in both games, isn't a bad choice. But Marissa Coleman's contributions in both games were arguably more valuable than Harper's points. From nearly collecting a triple-double against North Carolina to hitting big shots in the second half against Duke, Coleman seemed to be everywhere on the court.
Maryland always thought it was going to win. That confidence -- instilled by coach Brenda Frese -- was the difference. 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 both 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 posing a strong defensive presence on her. More ...
Maryland played a lot more aggressively in the second half. Early on, the Terps played timidly and were getting killed in transition defense. But after the break, they did a better job of slowing down Duke by doing a better job rebounding, shooting better and clamping down on Duke's Monique Currie and Lindsey Harding.
The game changed when Currie got her third foul. At that point, Duke lost a lot of its aggressiveness and stood around a lot more. Then, when Harding got her third foul, Duke lost its flow and Maryland sensed it.
Maryland guard Shay Doron did a nice job defensively and helped hold the Duke duo to just two points in the first 12 minutes of the second half. Maryland applied a lot more ball pressure on both of them, which made it harder for the Blue Devils to get entry passes.
I don't know if there was anything Duke could have done differently. The Blue Devils did a great job of going to Currie late in the game, and she wanted the ball and made nice plays late for them.
Laura Harper was a good pick for most outstanding player. She played really well in the semifinals and was a big difference in the win over North Carolina.
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