They say anything can happen in the wild, wacky world of ACC basketball.
That assessment now has to extend to the ACC women's game following seventh-ranked Maryland's stunning 89-82 triumph yesterday over shell-shocked No. 2 -ranked North Carolina State in the final of the first Atlantic Coast Conference tournament before 1,500 at University Hall.
Even Jimmy the Greek might have been reluctant to give Maryland (15-1) much of a chance against the Woolfpack, winner of 21 of its previous 22 games, 16 of them by 16 points or more. Indeed, in a regular season game that was not as close as the score indicated, the Pack had whipped the Terrapins, 90-78, in Raleigh.
But yesterday brought sweet revenge for the Terps, who got an outstanding 30-point floor show from point guard Tara Heiss and courageous efforts from flu-ridden Betsy Bailey and Debbie Stewart.
Maryland coach Chris Weller knew her team had to do two things to beat State - stop 6-foot-2 center Genia Beasley and play better team defense. The Terps did both.
After jumping to an 18-12 lead only to stand around starry-eyed and watch the talented Wolfpack regain a 26-20 lead, Maryland got down to business.
Doreen Lefeged, who came in for Bailey each time the freshman from Marshall High School seemed ready to faint, pumped in six straight points to know the game at 26 with 5:41 left in the half.
The lead changed hands until a pair of free throws by Stewart, who finished with 18 points and eight rebounds in 27 minutes, and a layup by Kris Kirchner put the Terps ahead to stay, 42-38 with five seconds left in the first half.
If there was such a thing as the play of the game, then Maryland forward Jane Zivalich made it just before halftime. The junior intercepted an errant State pass and put up an off-balance shot from 10 feet that sent Maryland into the dressing room with a 44-38 lead.
The rest of the stage belonged to Heiss. The senior dashed past frustrated State defenders for 18 of her game-high 30 points in the second half. At one stage, the 5-6 Heiss scored 13 of the Terps' 25 points, including a three-point play, to send Maryland roaring out to its biggest lead of the game, 69-54, with 10:19 left.
Meanwhile State's Beasly was having two problems. But of them wore red jerseys and were named Stewart and Kirchner. Each did an excellent job in keeping Beasley away from the basket where she can be devastating. She finished with 24 points but most of them were scattered. Beasley made only 11 of 26 shots from the floor.
"I didn't have a good game against her the first time. She got 30 and I got four," said Kirchner, who totaled eight points and had seven rebounds. "I put more pressure on her this time and kept her outside."
Only Ginger Rouse, two-time all-Met and the Washington Post Player of the Year while at Robinson High, kept the Pack from coming completely unglued. While the Terps defense was shutting down the other players. Rouse suddenly took charge. She hit four buckets and passed off to Beasley for two more baskets to bring her team to within striking distance, 82-76 with 2:10 remaining.
"We came into this one with more confidence period," said Heiss. "We played better team defense this time."
Now it was Bailey's turn. In the final minutes, the 5-9 sharpshooter connected over State defenders three straight times. Her third basket gave the Terps an 84-76 advantage with 1:45 left. But State wasn't through yet.
Beasley hit a turnaround 10-footer and Kaye Young banged one home from the corner to pull State close, 85-80, with 39 seconds to play.
Heiss, a unanimous choice for Tourney MVP, then killed State's hopes with four free throws in the final 50 seconds.
"Our offense just didn't move well. It wasn't smooth at all," said Rouse, who finished with 12 points. "And Kris had a good game against Genia, that was a big difference."
Maryland shot 50 percent in the second half (19 of 38) and each basket seemed to come at the moment State was trying to get itself together.
"When you trying to catch up, you can't rush anything," said State Coach Kay Yow. "We forced shots and lost our patience."
It was not the same State teams that the Terps faced before. Beasley ignored her teammates most of the game and fired from the perimeter at will. Only Rouse and Trudi Lacey (16 points) were ableto get into the offense but their efforts came a bit too late.