HARTFORD, Conn. -- The end of the Maryland women's basketball season came a lot sooner than Shay Doron figured it would. The senior guard fully expected that there would be one more foul, one more chance to make it right, one more chance to keep moving toward Cleveland and the Final Four for a chance to repeat as national champions.
But when the horn sounded last night at the Hartford Civic Center, a season full of missed opportunities crashed under the weight of expectations, as the Terps lost, 89-78, to Mississippi in the second round, four games short of where they expected to be.
The Terps, who trailed by as many as 23 points, made a stirring comeback, trimming the Rebels' lead to six in the final 2:24, but could not overcome 29 turnovers - 20 in the first half. They were also done in by poor shooting, making just 41.8 percent of their shots.
"We just kept telling each other," Doron said. "We came back against [North] Carolina 20 points. We've had a lot of comebacks this year. I just felt we were so much better, this team. I'm just mad at us playing so badly. We just had to flip it over. It was in our hands. We dug ourselves too much of a hole."
Maryland (28-6), the second seed in the Dayton Regional, beat Mississippi, 110-79, in a November game in the Bahamas, but nothing about that game resembled last night's, as the Rebels (23-10) pressed and trapped and harassed the Maryland guards all over the floor, turning mistakes into easy baskets, scoring 42 points off turnovers.
"We really don't remember that game. We just know they hit 100 on us," said Mississippi guard Armintie Price, who had a game-high 28 points last night. "We were excited and knew that we were playing the defending champs. This time, we were trying to win a championship. We were playing for bigger and better things, so we were more focused."
The Terps opened the game in solid shape, taking a 6-2 lead in the first two minutes, and a repeat of the Bahamas tournament outcome appeared to be in the making.
From there, Maryland came unglued, turning the ball over on eight straight possessions, some forced by intense Mississippi pressure, but many because of mental mistakes.
"I'm proud of the fact that our team never gave up, but all of the credit goes to Ole Miss," said Maryland coach Brenda Frese, who gave her team a tongue-lashing captured on ESPN during a first-half timeout.
"They punished us in the first half and each and every one of you saw it. With 20 turnovers that we had [in the first half], giving up 47 points, they really fed off of points. They were able to get their defense going and cause a lot of turnovers. From our end, when we couldn't get our offense going, just like it's been oftentimes this season, it affected our defense."
Maryland's loss was the earliest exit by a defending champion since Notre Dame was knocked out of the tournament in the second round in 2002.
The Terps made a gutsy comeback down the stretch as sophomores Kristi Toliver, who had a team-high 24 points but 10 turnovers, and Marissa Coleman combined to score 16 of Maryland's last 20 points to cut the lead to six with 2:24 left.
But the Rebels, who came into the game shooting 61 percent from the free-throw line, made 20 of 22 in the second half, including 15 straight, to hold off the rally and advance to Dayton to meet third seed Oklahoma in the regional semifinal Sunday.
"We started to play Maryland basketball and that's not something we did the first 35 minutes of the game," said Coleman, who had 20 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out in the last minute.
For Doron, the first big-time recruit to commit to Frese four years ago who finished with nine points, the end of a brilliant Maryland career that found her with 1,878 points, second on the school's all-time list, came with 1:26 left on a foul that she didn't even realize she had.
"I honestly thought it was my fourth foul," Doron said. "At that point, I was just hoping that my teammates would pull it out and I would get to play one more game."
"We knew this game was going to come down to how well we played, how well we handled their pressure. It was in our hands and we just threw it to them. Gave it to them."
Play it again
A recap of Maryland's 89-78 loss to Mississippi last night in the second round of the NCAA women's tournament: Key run -- Mississippi outscored Maryland 18-0 during a four-minute stretch of the first half.
Power play -- During the 18-0 run, Mississippi guard Alliesha Easley hit a pair of three-pointers that pushed the Rebels' lead to 12.
Quotable -- "I think the difference was with our team, honestly. It was complete disregard for keeping the ball in our hands and getting shots." - Maryland guard Shay Doron, on the Terps' 29 turnovers.
Noteworthy number -- 42 - points off turnovers for Mississippi.
Up next -- The Terps await the 2007-08 season opener in November.
Three defending women's NCAA champions have been eliminated in the second round:
Team ...................................... Year
Maryland .............................. 2007
Notre Dame ..................... 2002
Purdue ................................. 2000
Note: Defending champion Old Dominion did not qualify for the tournament in 1986.