Terps Advance to ACC Women's Final
By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
GREENSBORO, N.C., March 7 — Maryland seniors Marissa Coleman and fellow senior Kristi Toliver have made no secret of their desire to win an ACC tournament title, the one thing that has eluded them in their careers, and a prize that Maryland has not won since 1989. They’ll get their chance to play for one on Sunday afternoon, following top-seeded Maryland’s 95-84 victory over fourth-seeded North Carolina.
Coleman scored 29 points to lead a balanced effort for Maryland (27-4), which had three other players in double-figures: Toliver (25 points), center Lynetta Kizer (15), and reserve guard Kim Rodgers (11). The Terrapins will face either second-seeded Florida State or third-seeded Duke in Sunday’s final at 1 p.m.
North Carolina (26-6) has dominated this tournament, particularly when it has been held here in Greensboro, less than an hour’s drive from its campus. The Tar Heels advanced to the finals in eight of the nine previous tournaments held here, and won the past four titles. In two of the past three years, North Carolina knocked the Terrapins out of the tournament.
But the Terrapins, winners of 10 straight, came into the game brimming with confidence and with a sizeable group of red-clad fans in the stands that tried to match the enthusiasm of the Tar Heel supporters. Twenty minutes before tip-off, Maryland’s players ran onto the court to big cheers, looped around the North Carolina players who were in their rebounding lines, and then gathered at midcourt, squeaking their shoes on the ACC logo.
The Terrapins got off to a fast start, scoring the game’s first six points and eventually opening up a 21-8 lead, but as would happen throughout the game, North Carolina soon rallied.
The two teams were called for a combined 23 fouls in a physical first 20 minutes; by the end of the first half, three of Maryland’s starters — guard Marah Strickland, forward Dee Liles and center Lynetta Kizer — were on the bench with two fouls apiece. For the final 90 seconds, Coleman and Toliver — veterans of Maryland’s 2006 NCAA championship team — were joined on the floor by three players who are in their first postseason: redshirt freshmen guards Kim Rodgers and Anjale Barrett, and raw freshman center Yemi Oyefuwa.
But that group outscored the Tar Heels 8-0 down the stretch, and prevented North Carolina from taking a shot. Rodgers, who rarely played during the regular season as she worked her way back from a knee injury that sidelined her all of last year, made two three-pointers in the final 52 seconds to give Maryland a 44-38 halftime edge.
The Terrapins went on an 8-2 run over the first two and a half minutes of the second half, and after Toliver fed Kizer for a lay-up with 17 minutes 34 seconds remaining, Maryland led, 52-40.
North Carolina junior Jessica Breland countered with a three-pointer, and over the next three minutes, the 6-foot-3 forward who had made a total of nine three-pointers in her career, sank two more to spark the Tar Heel’s comeback. Senior Rashanda McCants scored eight points off of an array of soft jumpers in that span, and when sophomore Italee Lucas hit a three-pointer with 13:49 to play, North Carolina was back in front, 62-61.
Lucas made a free throw following a steal to give the Tar Heels a two-point edge, but the Terrapins exploded for 11 straight points behind its seniors. On one possession, Coleman was somehow left open on the wing; she calmly sank the three-pointer and then strutted down the court. Moments later, Toliver kicked the ball to Coleman on the left side, and then Coleman spun past her defender for a bank shot and a 72-63 lead with 8:41 left.
Again, the Tar Heels closed the gap behind Breland and Lucas. Maryland came up empty on four possessions as it committed two offensive fouls (including the fourth on Coleman) and two other turnovers. Lucas’s baseline jumper followed by Breland’s short putback brought North Carolina to within three, and then Cetera DeGraffenreid, North Carolina’s super-quick 5-foot-6 point guard, sliced past defenders for a lay-up that cut Maryland’s lead to 79-78 with 4:28 remaining.
North Carolina never got any closer. Barrett stole the ball and scored on a lay-up, and Liles converted a tough putback to give Maryland some breathing room, and then Coleman and Toliver made 6 of 8 free throws in the final minute.
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