Third-Seeded Duke Upsets Second-Seeded Maryland, 74-63, to Advance to ACC Championship Game
March 8, 2008
By Steve Phillips
GREENSBORO, N.C. - Even as they held a double-digit lead against Maryland in Saturday's Atlantic Coast Conference Women's Tournament semifinal game, Duke's players knew a comeback attempt would be forthcoming.
When the second-seeded Terrapins finally made their move, the third-seeded Blue Devils didn't flinch.
After building an 11-point lead with just over 12 minutes remaining, Duke stood firm to post a 74-63 win before 11,438 at the Greensboro Coliseum.
"We knew they were going to make a run," said Joy Cheek, the Blue Devils' sophomore forward. "You can't be affected by that too much. You just have to keep your poise."
The win over the nationally fifth-ranked Terps sends the Blue Devils (23-8) into Sunday's 1 p.m. championship game against top-seeded and second-ranked North Carolina (29-2).
"I think it's appropriate to play against Carolina for the championship," said Duke first-year coach Joanne P. McCallie. "That's what it's all about at this point in the season, to play against the best."
Defense made the difference on Saturday for the Blue Devils, who converted 19 Maryland turnovers into 32 points and frequently beat the Terps in transition. Maryland, by contrast, turned 10 Duke turnovers into just five points.
"I thought Duke did a great job of being the aggressor at both the defensive end and the offensive end," Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. "I thought we got real tentative with it."
The Terps got within four points twice, the final time on Ashleigh Newman's two free throws with 3:20 left to play. Maryland had a chance to get closer after stopping the defensive stop on the next possession, but Kristi Toliver's 3-pointer from the left wing missed to leave Duke leading 63-59 with 2:32 left.
Wanisha Smith answered with a pair of free throws for the Blue Devils and Abby Waner's driving layup in transition pushed the lead to 68-59 with 1:35 on the clock. From there, it was just a matter of Duke hitting enough free throws to bring the win home.
"It gave us momentum and brought a lot of excitement to make a defensive stop, and then go down and get another score," Smith said. "We told ourselves that's what we had to do - make stops and then score. We didn't want to just trade baskets with them."
Smith with finished 22 points and Cheek had 16. Marissa Coleman's 20 points led Maryland (30-3), which lost for the first time in 10 games since falling to UNC in double-overtime on Jan. 26.
"I thought we were in a great place coming into this tournament," Frese said. "But we can get better. That's the lesson we will take from here."
The Blue Devils prevailed despite seeing leading scorer Chante Black score just two points and foul out with 3:20 remaining. Black had scored 20 or more points in three of her previous four games.
The 6-foot-5 Black did join Duke's other post players in containing Maryland's duo of Crystal Langhorne and Laura Harper. Langhorne finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds, and Harper had 12 points and a game-high 12 boards. But inside looks came tough for Terps, who failed to compensate by making just three of 20 shots from 3-point range.
The Blue Devils, who dropped both of their regular-season meetings to Maryland, fell behind by 10 points in the opening minutes. But feeding off a frenzied defensive, Duke fought back to lead 35-33 at the half.
Smith led the Blue Devils with 13 points in the first 20 minutes. Coleman scored 15 to lead the Terps, who trailed at the break despite outrebounding Duke by five and shooting 53 percent from the floor.
The Blue Devils never trailed in the second half. Maryland got as close as 40-39 on Harper's loose-ball layup with 15:22, but Cheek responded with a 17-foot jumper. Duke did not let the Terps get closer than three the rest of the way.
In addition to attempting the deny UNC its fourth straight ACC Tournament championship on Sunday, Duke will try to keep the Tar Heels from running the table in league competition. UNC posted a 14-0 ACC record during the regular season. That included two wins over the 12th-ranked Blue Devils, most recently a 31-point decision in Chapel Hill last weekend.
"A season is a culmination of many different experiences, so we're a different team today than we were yesterday," McCallie said. "I think we've gotten better every single game. This is an opportunity to pursue a championship. It could be any team (we're playing) at this point."
Duke will be back in the championship game after a two-year absence. The Blue Devils won five straight titles from 2000-2004 before falling to UNC in the 2005 title game.