8:27 PM EST, February 24, 2013
COLLEGE PARK —
This was Duke vs. Maryland, so you knew it wouldn't be a love-fest.
This was the No. 5 Blue Devils against the No. 8 Terps, a heavyweight matchup in women's college hoops, and there were all these subplots at work about revenge, Twitter dissing and which program deserves top-dog status.
Plus, the game was on national TV, meaning the two teams would work out their various issues — or not — in front of millions of viewers.
Well, Maryland didn't, that's for sure.
Instead, the Terps came out flat, shot the ball poorly and were pushed around in the paint all game long in a 75-59 loss to the Blue Devils in front of a huge crowd of 15,853 at Comcast Center.
"Tough night for us," Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. "Credit Duke. They came in here ready to play, shot extremely well and their physicality was hard to match."
What made the Terps' let-down so baffling was that they had talked all week about how badly they wanted this one, especially after being blown out by Duke, 71-56, two weeks ago at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Oh, that had been another sunny meeting between the two rivals, a game that resulted in Frese losing her cool and picking up the first ejection of her career for complaining about the officiating.
There had also been major grumbling by Terps players this week about tweets from Duke coach Joanne P. McCallie during the Maryland-Duke men's game that seemed to take shots at the rest of the ACC, including UM.
"What would all these venues do without Duke basketball?" went one gem from McCallie. "Sell fewer tickets, have less to dream about &just melt away into oblivion. Go Duke."
That one was quickly deleted, apparently on the grounds that it would give Duke opponents bulletin-board fodder for the next 100 years.
But McCallie is no shrinking violet. Her next tweet was equally understated:
"Top dog vs. underdog. Take the top dog status any day. Got to bring home a national title or a few to truly be a top dog. It's concrete. #Real."
All of it, the revenge factor and the Twitter blasts, had some experts convinced there was no way the Terps would allow themselves to lose this re-match.
There was also this: Duke was playing without its All-American point guard and best player, Chelsea Gray, who is out for the season with a dislocated kneecap.
Obviously, this was no small loss for the Blue Devils. Gray was averaging 13.1 points and leading the ACC in assists and steals while ranking in the top 10 nationally as well.
The junior was also a leading candidate, along with Maryland's sublime junior forward, Alyssa Thomas, to win ACC Player of the Year.
But when McCallie was asked after the game if her team had proved a lot of the experts wrong with this win, she dropped her Twitter persona and took the high road — sort of.
"We don't think like that," McCallie said. "We're just trying to get better. We're just trying to grow as a team. We had an All-American point guard out for the season, which has never happened in the history of the ACC. Matter of fact, I don't think it's happened nationally.
"... You can imagine how teams would feel if they lost their very best player. … [But] we just try to grow and get better. We don't pay attention to other people's thoughts."
Translation: Sure, losing Gray was devastating. But we're so good we could rise above it.
In fact, we're so good we don't care what the experts think.
Beautiful. And Duke people wonder why everyone else in the country thinks they're so smug.
Still, with or without Gray, it was a strange game for the Terps.
They came out flat in front of a big crowd that was ready to explode. Traffic on Rte. 1 was backed up for hours before the game. And the noise in Comcast at tip-off could have made your ears bleed.
Didn't matter. Unlike the Maryland men's basketball team, which fed off the crowd energy for that 83-81 upset of No. 2 Duke last week, the Terps women seemed strangely lethargic.
Duke jumped on the Terps right away, pushed them around in the paint and led 37-25 at the half. Maryland was 0-for-9 on 3-pointers and kept bombing all night instead of working the ball inside.
The Terps pulled to within eight, 54-46, late in the second half when Thomas (14 points) came alive for tip-in, a put-back and a 10-foot jumper, and junior guard Katie Rutan hit a 3.
But even then you had the sense Maryland didn't have enough energy to finish off Duke this time.
"We became a jump-shooting team," Frese said. "We took too many shots from the perimeter. We settled."
With the win, Duke (26-1, 16-0) clinched the regular-season ACC title for the fourth year in a row.
The Terps, on the other hand, dropped to 22-5 and 13-3 in the conference, tied for second place with North Carolina.
And they left Comcast on Sunday night knowing that for all their brave talk of revenge and redemption and all the rest, they let one get away.
Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "The Norris and Davis Show."
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