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ACC Memories - Toliver over Bales: In Maryland basketball history, this will forever be "The Shot"

Even casual fans remember "The Shot". And is it really possible to revisit the memories of a National Championship too often?

With Maryland finishing their last season in the ACC, we will be reviewing some of the most important and memorable ACC games involving Maryland. Today, Todd talks about his favorite memory against Duke, which is also one of the most important games in Maryland's women's basketball history.

I was in Boston on April 4, 2006 and it was no coincidence. I'd been a sporadic supporter of Maryland women's basketball over the years but frankly my interest waned as the team's success abated in the late nineties. Then, following the men's national championship in Atlanta in 2002, longtime coach Chris Weller retired and Maryland hired Brenda Frese to replace her.

I bought season tickets and perfunctorily attended a handful of games in Frese's difficult 10-18 first season and despite the losses, I liked what I saw. She had that squad playing an up tempo energetic style that quickly paid dividends on the recruiting trail. It started in the 2003-2004 season with Shay Doron and Kalika France, then the fabulous class that included Crystal Langhorne and Laura Harper culminating in the 2005-2006 class that brought in Marissa Coleman and Kristi Toliver.

By this point, I had joined the Rebounders - the women's basketball support group. I rarely missed a home game and was traveling to two or three road games every season. So, after the Terps managed that rather remarkable overtime win against Utah in Albuquerque, the prospect that I would miss a visit to Boston on the first weekend in April was nil.

A lot has been written about that championship season and the title game in particular. I tried to provide a slightly different take on it when I wrote the series on Coach Frese's top five wins at Maryland. So when Dave suggested we write about our top basketball memory of a Maryland versus Duke game, this was certainly mine.Then I began to wonder what I could write about that game that I, or someone else, hadn't already written.

Before I talk about that night, I'd like to remind people about that season. The Terps finished that season 34-4. They didn't lose a game to a team that was ranked below them at the time they played. In fact, of the three ACC teams that reached the Final Four that year, Maryland was the only one that had lost a game to a team not in that group. Early in the season, the Terps lost a close 80-75 game to then second ranked Tennessee (a team that featured Candace Parker) in a holiday tournament in the Virgin Islands. Their only other losses would be two regular season losses to Duke and a loss to North Carolina in the ACC Tournament final. Duke lost twice to UNC and twice to Maryland. The Tar Heels ended their season with two losses - both to the Terps.

The young Terps entered that championship weekend with a starting lineup that featured one junior (Doron), two sophomores (Langhorne and Harper) and two freshmen (Coleman and Toliver). The first two players off the bench - Ashleigh Newman and Jade Perry - were also sophomores. At a pep rally in the team hotel before Sunday's semi-final against UNC, the university President Dan Mote made an eerily accurate prediction about the game that had the Terps getting out to a lead and staving off a Tar Heels comeback before wrapping up an eleven point lead by making free throws down the stretch. He again predicted a Terrapins win on Tuesday but the game played out in a way that none of us expected.

Though the series had long been relatively even, the Terps hadn't beaten the Blue Devils in the Brenda Frese era until the 2006 ACC Tournament semi-final. That win let them enter the NCAA title game with some confidence having gotten over that hump. However, Duke played a poised and efficient first half and, after trailing 2-1 the Blue Devils methodically opened a lead that grew to thirteen. With under a minute to play in the first half Ashleigh Newman, who had entered the game less than a minute earlier, made a three point jumper from the left wing that sent the Terps to the locker room still trailing by ten but with what Maryland fans hoped would be a little momentum.

But I had a strange feeling sitting in TD Bank Garden that Tuesday night. The Terrapins opened the half trailing by ten and by the first media timeout, the gap had actually widened to twelve. The next stoppage of play came with 10:39 to play. In the sequence leading up to that timeout, Harper took a feed from Langhorne and made a layup to cut the deficit to six. Duke answered with an Alison Bales score at the other end. Mistie Williams put Maryland in the bonus when she fouled Langhorne in the battle for a rebound. Langhorne missed the front end of the one and one so just short of the midpoint of the second half Maryland had managed to shave all of two points off Duke's halftime lead.

So what did I find strange, you wonder? Well, the atmosphere in the building made it feel like the Terps were on the verge of overtaking the Devils. Ninety percent of the energy seemed to be coming from and toward Maryland. An analytical look at the situation showed that Duke had surrendered only two net points in ten minutes. This meant they could give up four times that number over the last ten minutes and still win the game by two. But sports are typically emotional not analytical. The fans, the energy, and the body language of the two teams made it feel like a much closer game than it actually was.

And the emotion seemed to be right. The Terps tied the game on Doron's free throw with 6:15 to play and took a short lived 59-58 lead when Langhorne made the second of two from the charity stripe less than a minute later. Ties came at sixty and sixty-two before Duke strung four free throws together around a missed Toliver jumper to edge back out to a four point lead. When Jessica Foley made two more free throws with eighteen seconds left, the score stood at Duke 70 Maryland 67. Then came the moment that everyone remembers. The one we call "The Shot."

After the game, Kristi Toliver, then a freshman said, "Big time players make big time shots." In retrospect, I think she must have been referring to the step back jumper she made from nearly NBA three point range over 6'7" Alison Bales.

If you watch the replay, watch how she barely celebrates but instead hustles back on defense to help out Coleman and Doron in bothering Lindsey Harding's shot from the baseline. Then look at the body language of the teams as they go to their respective benches. Everyone in the arena knew that the overtime would be a mere formality. No one doubted who would take home the trophy.

The 78-75 overtime win capped a magical season for Maryland. The Terps finished a perfect 6-0 in overtime games including 2-0 in the NCAA Tournament. Brenda Frese wrote a book called Overtime is Our Time. I sang the Maryland Victory Song on the 'T' to the presentation of the crustal trophy. And a National Championship Banner hangs in the Comcast Center but not in Cameron Indoor Stadium.