Virginia Tops Maryland in Top-20 Women's Basketball Matchup

Virginia's Monica Wright shoots over Marissa Coleman during the first half. Wright finished with 28 points in the Cavaliers' home victory.
Virginia's Monica Wright shoots over Marissa Coleman during the first half. Wright finished with 28 points in the Cavaliers' home victory. (By Steve Helber -- Associated Press)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 31, 2009

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Jan. 30 -- Lyndra Littles has been playing for Virginia for four years, yet she still finds it hard to read the emotions of the Cavaliers' coach, Debbie Ryan. But the senior forward did notice that Ryan seemed quiet during the team's shoot-around on Friday, and she did know that Ryan was in the midst of a draining, difficult week following the death of her longtime friend, Kay Yow.

So Littles and her teammates tried to do what they could to help their coach. She, senior forward Aisha Mohammed and junior guard Monica Wright combined to score 77 points and were the catalysts in a second-half comeback in 19th-ranked Virginia's 89-81 victory over eighth-ranked Maryland in front of 4,597 at John Paul Jones Arena.

"I guess you expect that from our senior class, the players that have been here a long time with her, to go that extra mile, to actually do what we're supposed to do just to make things a little bit easier on her," said Littles, a graduate of Carroll who scored a game-high 30 points. "Because she does so much for us, it was only right that we went out there and played our butts off."

There was a moment of joy when the final buzzer sounded on Virginia's first victory over Maryland since February 2005: Guard Britnee Millner joyfully tossed the ball high into the air. Millner and the rest of the Cavaliers seniors had never before beaten one of the ACC's power trio: Duke, North Carolina or Maryland.

Virginia (17-4, 4-2 ACC) and Maryland (16-4, 4-2) are now tied for third place in the ACC with 10th-ranked North Carolina. The Terrapins travel to No. 18 Florida State (18-4, 6-0) on Monday. The Seminoles, who topped third-ranked Duke in overtime on Thursday, have the longest winning streak in the ACC (nine games), but they have not beaten the Terrapins since January 2005.

It was a difficult day for both Ryan and Maryland Coach Brenda Frese, who traveled together to North Carolina on a University of Virginia charter flight for the public viewing for Yow, the Hall of Fame N.C. State coach who died last week following a long battle with breast cancer. That experience put the loss -- in which Maryland blew a 13-point second half lead and gave up 23 second-chance points -- in perspective, Frese said.

Senior Marissa Coleman led Maryland with 19 points. The Terrapins played almost exclusively zone against the Cavaliers, in an attempt to slow them down, but it also gave them chances to dart to the basket for offensive rebounds.

Wright, the ACC's leading scorer, missed 10 of her first 12 shots yet finished with 28 points, directed Virginia's transition attack and also spent most of the game guarding either Coleman or Kristi Toliver. Mohammed scored 19 points and grabbed 16 rebounds, and seemingly every defensive one down the stretch.

Mohammed "is like a freight train just moving, you got to find a way to stop it," Frese said. "They're explosive. Obviously, we didn't have an answer for them."

Maryland built a nine-point lead at halftime, despite playing for much of the first half without Toliver (17 points). She played only seven minutes because of foul trouble, but redshirt freshman Anjalé Barrett, who played just two minutes last Sunday against North Carolina, filled in capably, scoring six of her eight points in the first half.

The Terrapins extended their advantage to 46-33 early in the second half following a drive by Dee Liles (18 points). But Virginia scored seven straight points over the next minute: Wright came up with a steal and darted end-to-end for a layup, then she grabbed a defensive rebound and set up Littles for a layup, and finally Littles sank a three from the top of the arc.

A pull-up from Littles tied the score at 51, and a three-pointer from Wright (Forest Park) gave Virginia its first lead since the first half, 56-54. Toliver answered with a three-pointer of her own, but the Cavaliers pulled away from there, out-hustling and out-running the Terrapins.

Littles scored seven points in the 11-0 Virginia run that broke open the game. One of her baskets was representative of the way the Cavaliers played in the second half: she missed a pull-up jumper from the left side, chased down the rebound on the right and scored on a layup. She also was fouled and made the free throw.

After the game, Ryan was asked what Yow, her friend of 32 years, would've thought.

"She would've loved how hard we played, she would've loved how we didn't quit, how we stayed in there, how we kept gutting it out," Ryan said. "She would've loved it."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company