The dateline is March 27, 2006, Albuquerque, NM. Having knocked off the defending national champion Baylor Bears two nights earlier, the Maryland Terrapins women's basketball team took to the floor of The Pit with a lineup consisting of two freshmen, two sophomores, one junior, and one nasty stomach virus. Despite not having been able to practice and having several team members and coaches sent to the hospital for IV hydration, the young Terps squad, perhaps remembering the early January night Coach Frese had taken them to TD Bank Arena site of the 2006 Final Four, was about to tip off against the University of Utah in the Elite Eight to bring that visualization to life.
The Utes, who were looking to go 2-0 against the ACC in Albuquerque, having beaten Boston College in the Sweet Sixteen, got off to a hot start against Maryland taking an early 6-1 lead. The Terps answered with eight straight taking their first lead of the game on Marissa Coleman's three pointer. Midway through the first half, though, Utah led 15-14. The Utes were a defensively oriented team that had held their opponents to an average of 56 points per game and Maryland, despite having averaged over 81 points per game, was precisely on Utah's pace. However, the walk-up style of the game may have benefitted the ailing Terps who were likely in no position to play their customary running game.
Kristi Toliver's jump shot put Maryland up by one and the Terrapins were able to stretch that lead to six at 24-18 on Ashleigh Newman's layup as the teams went into the under four minute time out. Whatever momentum the Terps built going into that break dissipated coming out of it as Utah scored seven straight to recapture the lead. Toliver followed Marissa Coleman's game tying free throw with a three pointer as Maryland reclaimed the lead. Utah answered with a three pointer of their own but Shay Doron's jumper gave the Terps a two point halftime edge.
The second half opened in the same way as the first with Utah holding the early advantage going from two down to two up in the first three minutes or so. A Crystal Langhorne layup tied the score. Then Kristi Toliver went on a scoring binge bracketing a two point shot with two three pointers that put Maryland ahead. With the Terps up 44-42 Maryland's game went nines wild. Langhorne and Toliver scored Maryland's next nine points part of a nine to two run giving Maryland a nine point lead. And when Utah thought they'd stemmed the tide with a three pointer, Toliver, in the middle of a Jordanesque performance, simply shook her head and launched another three that found the bottom of the net scoring the Terps fifty-sixth point of the night with nearly ten minutes to play.
Then Utah's defense and some fatigue set in and the shots stopped falling with the same consistency. Still, Maryland played some strong defense of their own and, in what would become a hallmark of the Frese era, dominated the boards, while maintaining a solid working margin for a game being played at a slow pace. Toliver's jumper with 3:04 left gave Maryland a five point lead but those would be the Terps' last points of regulation.
Then fate stepped in. With the Terrapins clinging to a one point lead, Utah senior guard Shona Thorburn drove to the basket and drew a foul with 7.8 seconds remaining. Thorburn, the Mountain West co-player of the year as a junior, was a 74% free throw shooter for the season and who had made all four of her previous attempts in the game missed the first. She tied the score at 63 with the second. Two reasonably good looks by Toliver and Doron, failed to connect and the game headed to overtime.
This young Maryland team was battle tested having already gone 4-0 in overtime games for the season. And as Doron said in her post game interview, when they got to overtime they, "like rip through the gear thing and, like, create a gear." And the Terps did exactly that holding the Utes to only two free throws in overtime. Meanwhile, Laura Harper, who had been hampered by illness and foul trouble came alive to snatch two rebounds and score half of Maryland's twelve points.
The regional final in Albuquerque was the first on the NCAA schedule in March 2006. In her pre-game talk, Coach Frese urged her team to be the first to cut down the nets and earn a trip to Boston. They responded the only way they knew with a gritty 75-65 overtime win.