Word number one for the day was ‘rebound.' Word number two was ‘believe.' And the young Terps did both in powering their way to an 81-70 win over the North Carolina Tar Heels in the national semi-final on April 2, 2006. UNC came into the game as the number one overall seed. Maryland entered as the only number two seed in the Final Four. The Tar Heels had lost only one game on the season. The Terps were the only team to have beaten the Tar Heels having won 98-95 on Chapel Hill in February after Ashleigh Newman had made a miracle three pointer as time to send the game into overtime.
If a team could be described as hitting on all cylinders and misfiring on all cylinders simultaneously, then that was Maryland in the opening eight minutes of this national semi-final game. The Terps made their first seven shots. In the same stretch they had nine turnovers. They had two traditional three point plays but shot fifty percent on their other attempts. Fortunately for Terrapin fans, North Carolina looked as though they wanted to match Maryland in turnovers as they had seven over the same stretch. The game may not have been pretty to that point but it was certainly competitive. As the teams went to their respective benches for the third media timeout, Maryland held a 22-20 despite having eleven turnovers and eight field goals. The Terps had the largest margin for either squad having carved out "massive" leads of 7-4 and 11-8. There had been three lead changes and eight ties.
Interestingly, the Terrapin turnovers didn't appear to be the result of nervousness attributable to appearing on this big stage for the first time. They had opened the game fairly efficiently. When they opened the aforementioned 11-8 lead on a three point play from Crystal Langhorne with 16:22 remaining, they were 4-4 from the field with all of this scoring coming from Langhorne and Harper in the paint, 3-4 from the free throw line and had only committed two turnovers and one of those came on the opening possession.
Another curious development of the first part of the game was North Carolina's rebounding edge. As is typical of Brenda Frese coached teams, the Terps came into the Final Four as the one of the top rebounding teams in women's basketball. Early on, the Tar Heels held a 10-2 advantage on the boards. Maryland not only closed the gap over the final eight minutes of the half but the teams went into the locker room with 22 rebounds each. Perhaps even more surprising, Crystal Langhorne, who had a monstrous first half shooting making her first seven shots and finishing seven for eight from the field, and who was the Terps leading rebounder on the season, finished the half with no rebounds. Marissa Coleman and Laura Harper picked up the slack with seven and six respectively.
Although there would be three more ties before the intermission, Carolina wouldn't recapture the lead in the first half. After the Tar Heels tied the score at thirty, Langhorne dropped in back to back baskets and Toliver hit a jumper from the wing to put the Terps up by six at 36-30 with just over three minutes to play. Maryland had a chance to extend the lead but Harper missed a lay up and Langhorne missed the front end of a one and one and Carolina was able to close within two at the break.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one other notable moment of the first half. It came with 12:24 to play. Ivory Latta, UNC's point guard the ACC and ESPN's Player of the Year, went up for a rebound under the Carolina basket, landed awkwardly and collapsed in a crying heap. In true drama queen fashion, she was carried off the floor by her teammates and walked gingerly to the locker room. She was back on the bench in about a minute and fifteen seconds of game time and back on the floor with 10:45 to go.
The teams traded baskets to open the second half with Coleman knocking in a baseline jumper and Shay Doron getting a steal and layup for Maryland. Back to back three pointer gave Carolina its first and only lead of the half. Laura Harper would score the next six for the Terps going a surprising 4-4 from the free throw line.
Leading by three coming out of the under twelve media time out, with scoring from Toliver, Langhorne and Coleman, Maryland gradually built a lead. When Toliver hit the Terps' first and only three pointer of the game with 8:10 to go, the Terrapin lead ballooned to eleven. The Terps kept a nice working margin and still led by nine when Harper dropped in two more free throws with 4:49 left in regulation. But two free throws, a three point jumper and a three point play by Carolina bracketed a layup by Langhorne and the Terrapin lead was down to three with just under three minutes to play.
Crystal Langhorne got to the line off an inbounds play and made one of two but a quick Carolina basket cut the lead to two at 70-68. As the game clock wound under two minutes, junior Shay Doron, who had had a difficult game came to the fore for Maryland. First she made a free throw to put the Terps up by three. She followed that with a pull up jumper in the lane to extend the lead to five. Doron's shot came aggressively early in the possession but Coach Frese had told her at halftime that she was going to make a big shot and she did. But the junior from Israel via Christ the King High School wasn't quite done yet. After a pair of Carolina free throws made it a one possession game, Frese too the ball out of the hands of Toliver and gave it to Doron. After being hounded up the court by Latta, she drove into the lane and with five seconds left on the shot clock left her feet and found Harper under the basket for a lay up. With thirty-six seconds left, Maryland led 75-70.
As we all know, the Terps went on to close the game out winning by a final of 81-70 but two plays in the last 15 seconds deserve mention and strangely for this look back they both involve Carolina players. With Maryland up by seven and possession, Erlana Larkins who had had a brilliant 28 point 10 rebound game for UNC had to give a foul - her fifth. At that point, she walked to the Maryland bench and congratulated the coaches before taking her seat on the Carolina end of the floor. After missing three consecutive shots in the last 35 seconds, Ivory Latta, in a similar display of class and sportsmanship, put a bear hug around Marissa Coleman and threw her to the court in a UFC worthy move with Carolina trailing by nine and seven tenths of a second left and then took some prima donna time to leave the court.
With the loss, North Carolina finished the season 33-2. The win for Maryland was their second over Carolina in the 2005-2006 season. Oh, remember that Coach Frese's number one word for the day was rebound. That final margin was Maryland 41 - North Carolina 31.