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Maryland women’s basketball bracket madness (Final Four)

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The search for the greatest player in Maryland women’s basketball history is down to four.

Maryland Terrapins v Duke Blue Devils Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Bracket season isn’t over yet at Testudo Times. After trimming the field from 32 to 16 to eight, we’ve reached the Final Four of Maryland women’s basketball bracket madness.

It’s been a couple weeks since we published our last installment — longer than we wanted or planned, admittedly — but here’s hoping these stories are worth the wait. Thanks to Maryland women’s basketball head coach Brenda Frese and former Terps center (and current basketball coach and TV analyst) Christy Winters-Scott for taking the time to help with this project over the past week.

Let’s get going.

The results

The quarterfinals presented some tough choices, but we had four convincing winners. Alyssa Thomas, Kristi Toliver, Vicky Bullett and Crystal Langhorne each took over 70 percent of the vote in their Elite Eight matchups, setting up a semifinal quartet of Terps who reached a Final Four during their careers. Bullett led Maryland to that stage in 1989, Toliver and Langhorne were part of the 2006 championship team and Thomas capped her career with a Final Four appearance in 2014.

Here are the full Elite Eight bracket results.

WINNER Total Votes Site Twitter LOSER Total Votes Site Twitter
WINNER Total Votes Site Twitter LOSER Total Votes Site Twitter
Alyssa Thomas 93.8% 395 331 (96.2%) 64 (83.1%) Brionna Jones 6.2% 26 13 (3.8%) 13 (16.9%)
Kristi Toliver 72.9% 320 244 (70.1%) 76 (83.5%) Marissa Coleman 27.1% 119 104 (29.9%) 15 (16.5%)
Vicky Bullett 72.8% 327 272 (77.9%) 55 (55%) Shatori Walker-Kimbrough 27.2% 122 77 (22.1%) 45 (45%)
Crystal Langhorne 86.9% 377 311 (88.1%) 66 (81.5%) Shay Doron 13.1% 57 42 (11.9%) 15 (18.5%)

The bracket


The matchups

As always, make sure you’re viewing this in a browser so the polls show up.

ALYSSA THOMAS (2010-14)
Career stats: 17.5 pts, 9.1 rebs, 3.6 asts, 1.8 stls
Best season: 2013-14 (senior) — 19.0 pts, 10.9 rebs, 4.1 asts, 1.5 stls
Totals: 2,356 points (1st), 1,235 rebounds (1st), 488 assists (5th), 238 steals (6th)
Awards: 3x ACC POY (2012-14), 3x All-American (2012-14), 3x All-ACC First Team (2012-14), NCAA regional MOP (2014), ACC Tournament MVP (2012), ACC ROY (2011)

It’s easy to get lost in numbers when comparing all-time players, especially in the case of Alyssa Thomas. No player in Maryland men’s or women’s basketball history has scored as many points, grabbed as many rebounds or won as many Conference Player of the Year honors. And just for good measure, she’s fifth on the program leaderboard in assists and sixth in steals.

But these numbers are simply the punctuation to an all-around game that was on full display every time Thomas hit the floor. Brenda Frese first saw it at a summer tournament in Baltimore — it was because of Thomas that she chose to attend this tournament instead of seeing several top high schoolers with USA Basketball in Argentina, and she was quickly rewarded for the choice.

“I’ll never forget, I was up in Baltimore, I watched her in the layup line bouncing around with that ponytail. I mean, I was in love in warmups, so I couldn’t wait for the tip,” Frese said. “She was like a miniature version of LeBron, just the fact that you kind of had this point forward, a versatile type of player that could play the wing or the forward position, and just her ability to rebound and go in transition was the best of the best.”

Frese called Thomas the most competitive player she’s ever coached. And on a team that’s always loaded with star recruits, Thomas — the No. 7 player in the 2010 class, per ESPN — wasted no time establishing herself as a star on the college level. As a freshman, she started 31 games, averaged 14.5 points and 7.3 rebounds and won ACC Rookie of the Year. By her sophomore season, she was an All-American and the ACC Player of the Year after averaging 17.2 points and 8.0 boards.

In 2012-13, Maryland was hit with one season-ending injury after another, thinning the rotation to the point where the team slashed its practice schedule just to keep the players fresh. But the Terps still had Thomas, who handled point guard duties for a sizable portion of the season and tallied a career-best 5.3 assists, along with 18.8 points and 10.3 rebounds. She and Tianna Hawkins were the only Terps to average double-digit points that season, but Maryland still clawed its way to the Sweet 16.

“Alyssa just had those championship leadership qualities,” Frese said. “The fact that she could pass at such a high level and make the right plays and the right reads in our transition game and in our offense, it was really a no-brainer of putting her in those kind of positions to be successful. Especially when we got down to six players and a walk-on, [we were] putting her all over the court because she was a matchup nightmare for teams.”

By Thomas’ senior season, it was almost easier to ask what she couldn’t do. Winters-Scott recalls debate over whether Thomas’ game would translate to the WNBA without a consistent three-point shot (she made 19-of-71 career triples at Maryland, a 26.8 percent clip). But she didn’t try to change — being Alyssa Thomas was more than enough. She three-peated as ACC Player of the Year, and the Terps went 28-7 and reached their first Final Four since 2006.

Six years later, her Maryland records are unthreatened. She’s a two-time WNBA All-Star with a dominant track record overseas. Being Alyssa Thomas is still more than enough.

KRISTI TOLIVER (2005-09)
Career stats: 14.9 pts, 5.4 ast, 2.9 rebs 1.1 stls, 40.8% 3P, 86.6% FT
Best season: 2007-08 (junior) — 17.1 pts, 7.4 asts, 3.4 rebs, 1.5 stls
Totals: 2,078 points (5th), 751 assists (1st), 14.9 PPG (8th), 300 3Ps (1st), 40.8% 3P (3rd), 86.6% FT (1st)
Awards: ACC Player of the Year (2009), 2x All-ACC First Team (2008-09), 2x All-American (2008-09), All-Final Four (2006), National Champion (2006)

Perhaps the most classic debate in basketball is that of who takes the last shot with the game on the line. On a team of stars, who’s the alpha? Who can knock down a contested jumper when the pressure is the highest? Kristi Toliver has been that player everywhere she’s ever played.

The talent and playmaking ability were always evident — Toliver was a high school All-American and Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year before joining the Terps. She was always going to be a scorer at Maryland. But Frese learned early on that her freshman point guard carried plenty of swagger as well.

“I remember our first road game, we were playing [Siena] and there was a big crowd because we were there, and she hit a three and she kind of shushed the crowd,” Frese said. “And it was then that I was like, ‘Oh, she’s not afraid to get up for these big moments and to go into a gym.’ She always wanted to make big plays in big moments, and she was never afraid of the pressure ... nothing was too big for her.”

So when Maryland was down three with 15 seconds remaining in the 2006 national championship game against Duke, it knew exactly where to turn.

Toliver took the inbounds pass, drifted from the left wing to the right, pulled up and swished a game-tying triple over the outstretched arm of the 6’7 Alison Bales. Maryland forced a stop in transition to send the game to overtime, ultimately winning the first and only championship for the Terps. Toliver’s shot lives on as the most famous moment in program history.

In a way, though, that shot overshadows how impressive her freshman season was as a whole. Toliver averaged 11.6 points and 4.4 assists with 40.4 percent shooting from three-point range and 89.1 percent free-throw shooting. In a sport where players usually stay four years, being a freshman point guard comes with plenty of challenges. It’s safe to say, though, that Toliver and that team turned out alright.

“The personality to command the team, [you have to] have the respect and rapport of all your teammates,” Frese said. “For us, we love scoring point guards that can run the offense as well as be able to know when they need to score. But I think ultimately in that position, it’s being able to have command of all your teammates and know the flow of the game, who needs a shot and where it needs to go. It’s just having a really high IQ in that position.”

On an equally loaded 2006-07 team, Toliver averaged 12.3 points per game and shot 44.7 percent from deep. She blossomed into an All-American during each of her final two seasons, posting 17.1 points and 7.4 assists per game as a junior and following with 18.4 and 4.9 as a senior, earning ACC Player of the Year honors in 2009. Toliver is the program leader in assists by a wide margin, but she’s still best known as the player everyone wanted taking that last shot.

“Toliver was more of a displayer of leadership, a displayer of confidence for everybody else on the floor,” Winters-Scott said. “It’s, ‘We know that you’re going to bring us home, we know that you want that moment, we know that you can do that and you’ve proven it over and over again.’”

Those qualities have translated to winning at all levels, from high school to college to the pros. Toliver has won WNBA titles with two different franchises in addition to winning six consecutive Russian League titles with two different teams from 2013-18. She’s always had the ability, and she’s never had any fear.

Poll

Final Four: Alyssa Thomas vs. Kristi Toliver

This poll is closed

  • 61%
    Alyssa Thomas
    (242 votes)
  • 38%
    Kristi Toliver
    (149 votes)
391 votes total Vote Now

VICKY BULLETT (1985-89)
Career stats: 16.9 pts, 8.5 rebs, 1.3 asts, 1.9 stls, 1.5 blks
Best season: 1988-89 (senior) — 21.4 pts, 9.0 rebs, 1.8 asts, 2.3 stls, 1.4 blks
Totals: 1,928 points (6th), 968 rebounds (6th), 816 field goals (3rd), 170 blocks (3rd), 220 steals (11th)
Awards: ACC Player of the Year (1989), 2x All-ACC First Team (1988-89), All-American (1989), ACC Tournament MVP (1989)

Christy Winters-Scott’s first encounter with Vicky Bullett came at an AAU scrimmage in West Virginia when both players were in high school. During warmups, the home coach said his team’s post player would be a little late because she had a softball game. Winters-Scott didn’t think much of that until she saw who walked in. It was Bullett, whose softball uniform was filthy from sliding all over the place. As soon as Winters-Scott saw how tall she was and how strong she looked, she knew she was in for a long night.

“She comes walking in the door, softball uniform on, white pants but the front of them are just brown, just dirt,” Winters-Scott said. “And then she came out there and was killing us. So it was just kind of a daunting experience before we even got to college.”

Winters-Scott was a year behind Bullett, and she actually didn’t know Bullett had enrolled at Maryland until she joined the team herself. But she hadn’t forgotten that night in West Virginia. And she spent the next three years learning from one of the most dominant players and dynamic leaders in the country.

When watching film, Winters-Scott remembers Bullett teaching her to not just watch opposing post players but to study the entire set. On the court, Bullett was a vocal leader whose words carried as much weight as the actual coaches. And she never coasted through a practice, which inspired teammates to match her intensity.

“In preseason, like, if I can stay two steps behind her in the mile run, I’m gonna make it. That’s just how hard she worked, and I knew that was a guarantee,” Winters-Scott said. “She’s not going to have an off day in terms of her effort. I know that if I’m staying with her ... I’m not feeling great today, but if I stay right with her or close enough, I’m gonna make the standard.

“And that’s who she is as a person — just a genuine person who cares about others, shows it, but also had this competitive fire that was just unmatched.”

Bullett’s game matched that personality. After averaging 10.4 and 15.3 points in her first two seasons, she earned First Team All-ACC honors as a junior with 18.2 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. As a senior, she averaged 21.4 points (still a program record) and 9.0 boards en route to being named ACC Player of the Year. She’s also third in blocks and 11th in steals in school history.

“Vicky was well-rounded. She was a tremendous defender. She got on the glass insanely well,” Winters-Scott said. “She could pass the ball out of double and triple-teams, which she saw every single game — which made my life easy too because she’d find me and I’d be wide open.”

After playing on the U.S. Olympic team in 1988, Bullett’s game and leadership were on another level in her senior season. Maryland leaned on just eight players in 1988-89, but thanks to All-American campaigns from Bullett and Deanna Tate, the team went 29-3 and reached the Final Four for the first time in school history.

Over 30 years later, most of Bullett’s program records have been surpassed. But her impact lives on, as evidenced by her being the lone 20th-century Terp in this semifinal. Bullett made another Olympic team in 1992, was a four-time All-Star in Italy and added a WNBA All-Star appearance in 1999, the league’s third season. She was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011, the exclamation point on an odyssey that took off in College Park.

“Her heart, soul and spirit were all about Maryland,” Winters-Scott said, “And [that] brought the best out of us.”

CRYSTAL LANGHORNE (2004-08)
Career stats: 16.6 pts, 9.1 rebs, 1.5 asts, 1.1 stls
Best season: 2005-06 (sophomore) — 17.2 pts, 8.6 rebs, 2.0 asts, 0.7 stls, 0.3 blks
Totals: 2,247 points (2nd), 1,229 rebounds (2nd), 889 field goals (2nd), 469 free throws (4th)
Awards: 3x All-American (2006-08), ACC POY (2008), 3x All-ACC First Team (2006-08), ACC ROY (2005)

Crystal Langhorne has always been a basketball perfectionist. She’s never stopped trying to get in better shape or become more technically sound. That drive remains on display to this day, as the 33-year-old continues to adapt her game to extend her WNBA career. And at Maryland, it helped her turn in a four-year run of consistent excellence.

Like most elite post players entering the college game, Langhorne had dominated every other level she’d played at. Frese recalls Thanksgiving weekend of Langhorne’s freshman season, when she was outplayed and humbled by LSU rookie center Sylvia Fowles, as something she used as fuel to become the best player she could be.

“I remember challenging her — she was a lefty — to brush her teeth right-handed, do things right-handed,” Frese said. “She wanted to be great at everything. Just watching her career unfold, she was never satisfied.”

Langhorne started every game her freshman season, averaging 17.2 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. Maryland had its loaded starting five in place by 2005-06, but Langhorne’s 17.2 points and 8.6 boards per game that season both still led the squad. On a team of young, dynamic stars, the sophomore was a steady “veteran” presence who didn’t need to be the flashy headliner. She was the quieter type, but her play did plenty of talking.

“As a coach, it’s so rewarding when your best player is your most humble player, and that was Crystal,” Frese said. “I remember when we were beating Baylor in the Sweet 16 [in 2006] and she had [20] points at halftime — they had no answer for it. And at halftime, the girls are saying, ‘Keep feeding Crystal the ball, they can’t stop her.’ And she said, ‘Thanks for passing me the ball, guys!’ ... She was just always super humble, super gracious and very low-maintenance.”

Langhorne once again led Maryland in points and rebounds as a junior in 2006-07 (14.9 and 8.1 per game) and as a senior in 2007-08 (17.3 and 9.4). She was an All-American each of her last three years and the ACC Player of the Year in 2008. Langhorne’s efficiency — she shot 65.2 percent from the field in her career and 70.7 percent in 2006-07 — remains unparalleled in program history.

The raw numbers were never eye-popping, but she graduated as Maryland’s all-time leader in points and rebounds (she’s now second to Thomas in both categories).

Winters-Scott drew a parallel between Langhorne and former Spurs legend Tim Duncan, another example of a player who was consistently excellent but never flashy. Duncan’s name doesn’t seem to come up enough when discussing the NBA’s all-time greats, and Langhorne might not be the first name that comes to mind when you think of Maryland’s 2006 team. And neither player would beat their chest demanding recognition. But their body of work simply can’t be ignored.

“You knew what you were going to get out of Lang,” Winters-Scott said. “You knew that she was going to take you to the basket. You knew that she was left-handed, but she’s still going to kill you. There was really no stopping her.”

Poll

Final Four: Vicky Bullett vs. Crystal Langhorne

This poll is closed

  • 42%
    Vicky Bullett
    (163 votes)
  • 57%
    Crystal Langhorne
    (223 votes)
386 votes total Vote Now