Maryland established the tempo early, beat back two Valdosta State attempts to change the game's beat and danced away with a 73-66 triumph tonight in an Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women South Section semifinal.
Maryland will face top-ranked Old Dominion in Saturday's 10 p.m. (EST) South final. The winner gets a berth in next weekend's final-four field at Greensboro, N.C. The Lady Monarchs trounced Kansas State, 96-75, in tonight's other semifinal.
The Terrapins parlayed solid defense and a distinct height advantage into their eighth victory in their last nine games and 22nd in 28 starts.
The Lady Blazers had no starter taller than 5-feet-10 -- a statistic that the Terps exploited with the inside scoring of sophomore Kris Kirchner and rebounding of freshman Myra Waters.
Maryland's defense was outstanding. The Georgia school came into the contest with all five starters schooting better than 50 percent from the floor. But the Terps mixed a man-to-man and (mostly) zone, forced Valdosta to shoot from outside and limited the Blazers to less than a one-third success rate (25 of 73).
"Our defense has vastly improved over the last half of the season," said senior forward Jane Zivalich, who had two of Maryland's 10 steals. "Everyone realizes there's no tomorrow and that it's imperative the defense be consistent."
Forward Susan Taylor, the Lady Blazers' leading scorer (24.5), missed 13 of 21 shots, including seven of eight in the first 20 minutes. Guard Carol Chason, a 58 percent field goas marksman, made only four of 14 and totaled nine points under her 20-point standard.
Maryland roared to a 12-0 lead with 3:37 elapsed. Kirchner (18 total points) scored on a lob pass from Zivalich, an offensive rebound, a driving layup and an eight-foot turnaround jumper during the surge.
"We hadn't played since last weekend," said Kirchner. "So we went out and immediately went berserk out of nervous energy."
Kirchner blocked two shots during the early going and, along with Waters, controlled the defensive boards to limit Valdosta (26-8) to one shot per possession. Jeri Roache finally scored for Valdosta to make it 12-2 with 15:09 left.
Minutes later it was Maryland's turn to go cold. Leading, 14-7, the Terps failed to score on their next five possessions. Taylor and Coretta Bloom each made three-point plays to key Valdosta's surge that saw the Lady Blazers take their only lead of the game, 16-14.
Substitutes Lydia McAiley and Betsy Bailey and starter Pam Reaves then scored Maryland's next three baskets while Terp forward Debbie Stewart was making two thefts at the defensive end; and the Terps held a 20-16 lead which they never relinquished.
Bailey continued to score, hitting four of six shots in the first half, and Maryland built the margin to 38-31 by halftime. Kirchner scored at will in the half, sinking six of seven shots.
The Lady Blazers kept it close by making 13 of 18 free throws while Maryland did not have a foul toss in the half.
"I'm not going to comment on the officiating," said Terrapin Coach Chris Weller.