By Kathy Orton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
SPOKANE, Wash., March 31 -- Maryland senior forward Crystal Langhorne paused before speaking, trying to compose herself as the tears flowed rapidly down her face.
"As a senior, I did not want my career to end, and neither did the rest of the seniors," Langhorne said, wiping her wet cheeks. "It's never going to be like this anymore. . . . The team atmosphere, it's never going to be like this anymore. We just didn't want it to end."
Top-seeded Maryland's 98-87 loss to Stanford in the region final at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on Monday night not only signaled the end of the seniors' careers, it also meant the Terrapins would not be going to the Final Four. Instead, the second-seeded Cardinal (34-3), which has won 22 consecutive games, will face Tuesday night's winner of the Greensboro Region final between Connecticut and Rutgers in the national semifinals Sunday.
In a game that featured transcendent performances by a player from each team, the outcome came down to Maryland's inability to slow Stanford's perimeter shooting. The Cardinal made one less field goal than the Terrapins, but 14 of its 32 baskets came from beyond the three-point arc.
"Sometimes, it's just not your day," Maryland Coach Brenda Frese lamented. "We dug ourselves into a hole early, and we felt like we were trying to fight to come out of that the entire game."
Candice Wiggins was spectacular. Wiggins, the daughter of the late Baltimore Oriole Alan Wiggins, scored 41 points on 10-of-22 shooting, including 5 of 11 three-point attempts. Maryland switched several defenders on the senior all-American, to no avail. Wiggins averages 20 points a game, but she reached that total before the midway point of the second half.
This was not her first dynamic performance of the tournament. Wiggins scored 44 points against Texas-El Paso in the second round, the third-most prolific output by a player in NCAA tournament history.
Maryland's Kristi Toliver nearly outshined Wiggins, who was named the Spokane Region's most outstanding player. Toliver scored 24 of her career-high 35 points in the second half, making 14 of 21 shots overall. Toliver, Maryland's best outside threat, couldn't match Stanford's production from beyond the arc, however. She made three of the Terrapins' six three-pointers.
"I wanted to be aggressive," Toliver said. "I had open looks, I was able to create and then I kind of got in the zone."
Two nights ago, the Terrapins played their best defense of the season, limiting Vanderbilt to 66 points and 39 percent shooting. That defense was nowhere to be found Monday night. Stanford made 51 percent of its shots from the field. In the first half, the Cardinal scored on nine consecutive possessions to take a 30-22 lead.
Maryland has long struggled with its perimeter defense, and Stanford exploited that weakness Monday night. If Wiggins wasn't making outside shots, guard J.J. Hones or forward Kayla Pedersen were. Hones, who averages six points a game, made four three-pointers to finish with a career-high 23 points. Pedersen, the Pacific-10 freshman of the year, made all three of her three-point attempts and added 15 points.
"The shots that they hit from three were big-time daggers," Frese said.
Maryland (33-4) had its chances to cut into Stanford's lead in the second half, but the Terrapins' free throw shooting deserted them. They missed 5 of 6 foul shots during a crucial late-game stretch and missed 9 of 24 from the foul line overall.
Though Maryland shot the ball well, making 54 percent of its shots, most of the shots the Terrapins were taking came from the perimeter and just inside three-point range. Maryland's two starting front-court players, Langhorne and Laura Harper, barely touched the ball. Langhorne went 4 of 6 from the field to score 13 points, and Harper had 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting.
The result meant there will be no return trip to the Final Four for the four seniors who transformed this program from ACC doormat to national champions their sophomore year. They leave quite a legacy at Maryland, making their marks individually and collectively on the school record book. Yet the national title they won with such apparent ease two years ago proved far more difficult to replicate; they never got back to the Final Four.
On Monday night, it took a magical performance to stop them, but when Stanford needed her most, Wiggins delivered.
Terrapins Note: Maryland became the first team in NCAA history to have four players with 1,400 career points on its roster. . . . The Maryland seniors finished their careers 11-3 in the NCAA tournament.