As the final minutes wound down in sixth-ranked Maryland's 73-58 victory over Wake Forest in Saturday's Atlantic Coast Conference women's basketball tournament semifinals, Lynetta Kizer implored Terrapins supporters at Greensboro Coliseum to rise and join her in celebrating the moment.
The senior center certainly was soaking in third-seeded Maryland's 13th trip to the ACC title game, and her performance contributed considerably to her team's fifth straight win and 12th in a row over the Demon Deacons. Coming off the bench as she has for all but one game this season, Kizer scored 12 points on 5-for-5 shooting, including a put-back and bonus free throw with 4 minutes, 16 seconds left in regulation.
That critical 3-point play before an announced 8,049 came after sophomore forward Alyssa Thomas missed the second of two foul shots shortly after Wake Forest had trimmed a 16-point deficit to 61-54 with the help of a 7-0 burst. Kizer carved out space to the left of the rim, grabbed the ball as it bounced away and scored her final field goal, allowing Maryland to run off time down the stretch for its eighth win in nine games and coach Brenda Frese's fourth appearance in the ACC final in 10 seasons.
Maryland can become the first team to win 10 conference championships — North Carolina also has nine — when it meets No. 15 Georgia Tech, an 87-61 winner Saturday over North Carolina State. The Terps swept the Yellow Jackets during the regular season.
"Coach said it was going to be a dogfight, and it was," said Kizer, who played on Maryland's most recent ACC tournament title team in 2009. "I mean, she wanted us to be relentless on the boards, and that's something we put in our minds to do."
The Terrapins (27-4) outrebounded Wake Forest 47-34, but in a rarity for them were at an offensive rebounding deficit of 19-14. That deficiency was especially pronounced in the first half, when No. 7 seed Wake Forest had 13 offensive rebounds to Maryland's six.
"I don't think the [Washington] Wizards get 13 offensive rebounds on them," Demon Deacons coach Mike Peterson said.
A saving grace for Maryland was its 53 percent shooting that featured four players in double figures. In her second game since becoming the second sophomore to be named ACC Player of the Year, Thomas finished with game highs of 18 points, 12 rebounds and four assists, although she committed a game-high six turnovers.
Sophomore guard Laurin Mincy had 13 points, including 2-for-3 from 3-point range, seven rebounds and four assists, and junior forward Tianna Hawkins chipped in 10 points, five rebounds, two blocks and two steals. She committed just one turnover, the fewest among the starting lineup that in all had 18 turnovers.
Flawed ball security again was an issue for Maryland. In Friday night's quarterfinal victory over Virginia, the Terrapins amassed a season-high 24 turnovers, and a day later, they committed 22 that in large part contributed to Wake Forest taking 21 more shots.
Maryland also shot 62 percent on free throws and at one point was 7-for-14 until making six of seven in the closing stages. Despite those missteps, the Terrapins won by at least 12 points for a fourth straight time, thanks in part to limiting Wake Forest (19-13) to just below 30 percent shooting.
Sophomore guard Chelsea Douglas led the Demon Deacons with 14 points but missed 15 of 20 shots and was 2-for-7 from 3-point range. She also was assessed a technical foul with 5:37 left that sent Terrapins freshman point guard Brene Moseley to the line, where she converted two foul shots for a 61-47 lead.
"I liked the fact that we were able to keep our composure," Frese said. "I thought specifically in the second half we were really able to get back to playing how we play. We were able to defend. We were able to get on the glass and make plays, and we shared the basketball. We did a much better job in the second half."