Geiger challenged the team to play with a sense of elan.
It's safe to say that after yesterday's 75-61 win over 18th-ranked North Carolina in the semifinals, the Terps, who haven't looked very happy in recent weeks, may be on the verge of elan.
The second-seeded Terps (22-6), who have won a record eight ACC tournament titles, advanced to tonight's championship game at the Winthrop Coliseum (5:30, HTS) against top-seeded Virginia, which beat Clemson, 79-71, in overtime in the other semifinal.
Maryland and Virginia (23-5) split their regular-season meetings, the Terps winning in College Park, 70-66, in January, the Cavaliers prevailing in Charlottesville, 87-73, two weeks ago.
In the second game, in which Virginia won its third straight ACC regular-season championship, the Cavaliers out-rebounded Maryland, 51-26, controlling the boards and the tempo.
"We're going to have to do a much better job on the boards, because the rebounding was bad for our transition defense," said Maryland coach Chris Weller.
"They were red-hot down there," said Maryland guard Malissa Boles. "It's going to be a great game. We're not going to lay down and die for anyone."
Said Virginia coach Debbie Ryan: "Both teams have been extremely competitive. I think we match up very well. It should be a close game."
The Terps, who have appeared in 10 championship games in the tournament's 16-year history, have won the past six times they reached the final, and they beat Virginia, 76-70, in 1988 in the schools' only previous title meeting.
Maryland's first championship game appearance in four years came courtesy of outstanding play from its four senior regulars -- center Jessie Hicks and guards Boles, Katrina Colleton and Monica Bennett, who each scored in double figures.
"They played with true determination and passion, and they played poised," said Weller.
The seniors, of course, have their own motivation besides a higher seed for the NCAA tournament.
If the Terps lose tonight, the seniors would be the first four-year class to leave Maryland without an ACC championship, which would be particularly galling since they were a part of last year's team -- the only Terps squad to reach No. 1 in the national poll.
Colleton said: "I'm just excited about the whole ordeal. I've been here three years and we've never gotten here [the championship game]. This is an accomplishment, but we want to win the whole thing."
Of her seniors, Weller said: "They were motivated. It's the last chance they have to play college basketball. I don't want it [the tournament] to be a pressure thing. I want them to do the best they can do."
Boles, in particular, was extraordinary against North Carolina (22-6), scoring a career-high 24 points to go along with six rebounds, three assists and three steals.
"I knew they would try to double-down, so I thought the key was to hit the 12- to 13-foot shots in the seams.
I felt confident," said Boles
In addition, Colleton, who had 16 points, and Bennett, who chipped in 12, were crisp on the perimeter on a day when they had to be, since the Tar Heels swarmed Hicks, who had 15 points, but did not score from the floor in the second half.
The Terps were brilliant defensively, forcing 22 North Carolina turnovers and grabbing 16 steals.
They placed particular emphasis on Tar Heels guard Tonya Sampson, the league's leading scorer, and forward Charlotte Smith, who had 23 points in North Carolina's loss in College Park three weeks ago.
Maryland used a zone that picked up Smith and Sampson high in the Tar Heels' offensive set and followed them through each possession.
"Those two are such fine players that we didn't want them to get off," Weller said. "The whole key with Sampson was to try not to let her get into a one-on-one game."
Smith scored seven points, and Sampson, who burned Maryland for 38 points in the Tar Heels' five-point win in Chapel Hill in January, had eight points on 1-for-19 shooting.
"It was a bad game for me. My shot just wouldn't fall," Sampson said. "I was wide open on everything, but it just wouldn't go."
Said North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell: "She [Sampson) forced a few things, but she couldn't even make a
The Tar Heels made up an 11-point deficit, and trailed by only three at halftime.
In the second half, North Carolina kept the deficit manageable until Colleton hit three clutch jumpers in a two-minute span to give Maryland a 12-point lead with 2:08 left.
ACC women's tournament
#(At Rock Hill, S.C.) Friday
Wake Forest 70, Duke 69
Maryland 91, Florida State 68
North Carolina 89, N.C. State 71
Virginia 74, Wake Forest 46
Clemson 87, Georgia Tech 66
Maryland 75, North Carolina 61
Virginia 79, Clemson 71 (OT)
Maryland vs. Virginia, 5:30 p.m.