Tar Heels Drop Terps In an ACC Semifinal

By Kathy Orton
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, March 4, 2007

GREENSBORO, N.C., March 3 -- This ACC tournament was all about revenge for the Maryland women's basketball team. The Terrapins wanted payback against the three teams that handed them losses this season. But after exacting vengeance against Georgia Tech in the quarterfinals, third-seeded Maryland stumbled in the semifinals Saturday against second-seeded North Carolina -- the team that knocked it out of last year's tournament.

Unable to stop the Tar Heels' explosive offense, the Terrapins lost, 78-72, and wasted a golden opportunity for their first ACC tournament title since 1989. In the day's first semifinal, top seed and previously unbeaten Duke was upended by fourth-seeded North Carolina State, 70-65.

Thus, the defending tournament champion Tar Heels will play in their sixth consecutive ACC tournament final against a Wolfpack program playing in its first championship game since 2001. North Carolina (29-3) can tie Maryland's record of eight ACC tournament titles with a win Sunday.

The loss likely cost Maryland any shot at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and meant senior guard Shay Doron will end her career without an ACC championship.

"It's tough finishing my career without [a title], but I'm looking at the big picture," Doron said. "If we had to lose today to win another national championship, then that's going to be worth everything to me. Any loss, all of the losses we had this year, all of the losses we've had since I've been at Maryland, a national championship makes everything better."

There might not be two more evenly matched teams in the country than Maryland (27-5) and North Carolina. Both teams are laden with talent and each embraces an up-tempo style. But at one point in the first half, it didn't appear that the top two scoring teams in the country were on the floor. Neither the Terrapins nor the Tar Heels made a field goal for nearly 3 1/2 minutes in the first half. Maryland, which never led in the game, kept it close throughout. The Terrapins always were within 10 or fewer points of the Tar Heels, but they never could go ahead.

This time it wasn't Maryland's usual nemeses -- North Carolina's Ivory Latta and Erlana Larkins -- who caused the Terrapins' downfall. Latta scored 32 points against Maryland in the Tar Heels' 84-72 victory on Jan. 28, and Larkins had 20, but neither one dominated in this game. Latta scored 19 points and Larkins started strong but then faded, finishing with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Instead, it was freshman forward Jessica Breeland who made the difference.

Breeland had scored in double figures only twice in her last 10 games, yet she looked like an all-ACC selection against Maryland. She went 5 of 6 from the floor to finish with 14 points in 16 minutes. She was one of five players to score in double figures for North Carolina.

"Jessica Breeland was their X-factor today," Maryland Coach Brenda Frese said. "She made some key shots and really with some range. I thought she stepped up and played with a lot of confidence."

Maryland also was hampered by foul trouble to its two starting post players. Laura Harper and Crystal Langhorne picked up their third fouls within three seconds of each other with 14 minutes remaining. Harper's fourth foul came two minutes later and Langhorne got her fourth a minute after that, forcing Frese to shuttle players in and out to protect Harper and Langhorne. Harper finished with six points and three rebounds and played just 23 minutes. Langhorne had 16 points in 31 minutes.

"We got tentative, obviously, when Crystal and Laura picked up their fourth fouls," Frese said. "That was a big change in the game."

Maryland, which didn't make its first three-point shot until Marissa Coleman (18 points) sank one early in the second half, matched North Carolina's output from behind the arc with six three-pointers. The one they wanted the most, however, didn't fall. Doron lofted a shot from the left corner with 35 seconds left that would have pulled the Terrapins within one, but LaToya Pringle deflected it -- at least according to referee Bryan Enterline. Maryland wanted a foul.

"It was just a Final Four game," Frese said. "That's what it felt like. We are disappointed, but I'm proud of the effort."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company