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Mizrachi helps Terps crowd around No. 1


CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Before last night, Limor Mizrachi had never looked out into a gym and seen so many people looking back at her while she played basketball.

Maybe a few of Mizrachi's friends and relatives would come to her games in Givataim, Israel, and the crowds at her games at Maryland this season have hardly been overwhelming.

But the sound and fury of the 8,662 that piled into University Hall to see the third-ranked Terps beat top-ranked Virginia, 67-65, left a good impression on Mizrachi, a 5-foot-7 sophomore guard.

"I'm very impressed for this crowd," said Mizrachi, 21, in halting English. "This is the first time I played in a women's basketball game with this many people. I wish that each school will be like this. It's more interesting. It's more fun."

It's certainly more fun when you can knock off the nation's No. 1 team on their home court, as Maryland did, to possibly lay claim to the top spot in the polls, when they are released next week.

And Mizrachi was no small part of that effort, scoring 16 points, pulling down five rebounds and dishing out five assists.

"I've heard Limor criticized about her defense and other things, but she's doing fine," said Maryland coach Chris Weller.

"I think she's a great competitor, a steady influence and a student of the game."

All of those traits served the Terps (13-1, 3-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) well, as they outran and outscrapped the Cavaliers (13-1, 3-1) for most of the game, then held on at the end for the win.

Mizrachi, the team's most accurate outside shooter, hit key three-pointers in the first half to give Maryland a lead that grew to as many as 14 points, then hit two more late jumpers and two foul shots to give Maryland a 10-point lead with five minutes left.

Virginia's late charge, which included a 9-0 run to pull it within one with 1:58 left, fell short, under the weight of uncharacteristically sloppy play by the Cavaliers, who saw their 13-game winning streak and 15-game homecourt streak come to an end.

"They were a lot hungrier and you could see it," said Virginia center Heather Burge, who led all scorers with 29 points. "They hustled after every loose ball and it didn't look like we did."

"We played a very unintelligent game," said Virginia coach Debbie Ryan. "I've not seen a lack of intelligence from this team since they were freshmen. Maryland deserved to win, no doubt.

"They outplayed us, they out-hustled us, they out-everythinged us. As far as I'm concerned, they're the best team in the country."

The Terps may ascend to that lofty slot next week, which would be a first in the program's 17-year history.

But they won't campaign for it.

"We don't have to make a great, grandiose statement," said senior forward Dafne Lee of Walbrook High. "You have to handle your success as well as your defeats.

"We don't get into the ranking. That will throw off your whole focus. If they pick us No. 1, fine. If not, fine. We'll work harder."

"They'll have an interesting time with it [the ranking]," said Ryan. "We've had it for so long that we think it belongs here. They'll go up and down with it, because they're good, but they're inexperienced."

Perhaps, but last night, it was Virginia, a two-time Final Four participant and a narrow loser in last year's national championship game, that looked inexperienced.

The Terps, who hadn't beaten a No. 1 team since knocking off Tennessee, 85-79, in December 1978, beat Virginia at their own game: running.

Maryland used quickness in the post position for easy inside baskets, and got its perimeter players -- Mizrachi, Lee and junior Malissa Boles, who had 15 points -- out on the run with Virginia.

"That's our style of game and we decided we weren't going to change," said Weller. "I told Debbie I'm interested to see if we were quick enough to stay with them."

Burge was the only consistent scoring threat Virginia had, and her 6-5 height gave Maryland fits all night, as the Cavaliers were able to lob into her for short-range shots.

But the Maryland perimeter defense harassed the Cavaliers' three-guard set of Dawn Staley, the returning national Player of the Year, Tammi Reiss and Dena Evans, into a horrific combined 8-for-35 shooting performance.

In addition, while the Cavaliers outrebounded Maryland 46-36, including 19-10 on the offensive boards, they were unable to convert many of their second chances, including missing five shots on one possession midway through the second half.

"We played out of character," said Staley, who shot 5-for-20, missing two shots in the last 1:30 that would have tied the game. "We lost our composure and Maryland did a great job of sticking to its game plan.

"We had plenty of opportunities to win. That's not to take anything away from them because they played a great game."

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