Turtle power only goes so far
Maryland can win the NCAA title if: the Terrapins catch some breaks
What would the expectations have been this season if Maryland had returned all five starters from a team that lost to upstart Utah in a regional final last March?
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It almost happened. In fact, it would have happened but for a missed free throw that pushed the game to overtime and allowed the Terrapins to pull away for the win.
The point is not to impugn the championship the team subsequently won by beating North Carolina and Duke in the Final Four but to point out that perception about the Terrapins probably has fluctuated much more wildly than their actual performance.
Maryland hasn't won a "big" game yet this season, losing twice against North Carolina and twice against Duke. The Terrapins did beat Middle Tennessee on the road to open the season and have wins against tourney teams TCU, George Washington, Mississippi, Temple, Marist, NC State, Michigan State, Georgia Tech and Florida State (they also lost to Georgia Tech once, their only defeat that didn't come against Duke or North Carolina).
Even in the four signature losses, the Terrapins played one bad game at Cameron Indoor Stadium against Duke and one bad half at home against North Carolina. The rest of the time, they looked like a team perfectly capable of playing on an equal level with the Blue Devils and Tar Heels, arguably the two overall favorites for the national title.
The Terrapins just didn't catch any breaks, or perhaps more accurately, create enough of their own breaks -- while Duke's Lindsey Harding and North Carolina's Ivory Latta did just that.
Look back at last year, when the Terrapins knocked off the Tar Heels in the regular season and the Blue Devils in the ACC tournament before beating both again in Boston. It's difficult to pick out anything the Terrapins aren't doing now that they did then.
The Terrapins are a great 3-point shooting team, hitting nearly 38 percent of their shots from behind the arc. Despite attempting just nine more 3-pointers than their opponents, they've hit 57 more than their foes. But in three of the four losses against Duke and North Carolina, they struggled badly from long distance. So is that the key?
Not really. Maryland was a great outside shooting team last season, but the Terps hit one 3-pointer in the semifinal win against the Tar Heels and didn't really shoot well in the final against Duke until Kristi Toliver hit a shot for the ages.
So do the Terrapins just need to control the boards? After all, their plus-15 rebounding margin this season was among the best in the nation. Maybe not, considering they outrebounded North Carolina 50-38 on Jan. 28 and still lost by 13 points.
The Terrapins have won games despite committing turnovers by the dozens. They've lost when Toliver played well and won when Crystal Langhorne couldn't have gotten a post-entry pass if she had been holding a $50 bill in her raised hand.
Like each of the handful of legitimate championship contenders in the field this year, the Terrapins do a lot of things really well and some things pretty poorly. Unlike most of those teams, they just haven't done enough of the former at the right times in the games that matter most. But all it takes is a look back at last March to know they're capable of doing just that.Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.