Bracket-busting defeat

The Baltimore Sun

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The next eight days promise to be long ones for the fifth-ranked Maryland women's basketball team, as it waits to see what yesterday's 74-63 loss to No. 12 Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament semifinals will cost it in terms of NCAA tournament seeding.

The Terps (30-3), the tournament's second seed, had hopes of grabbing a No. 1 NCAA seed if they could get to the ACC final, as well as dreams of repaying top seed and No. 2 North Carolina for their lone league regular-season conference loss in today's championship game. Those all vanished in the wake of a devastating setback to a Duke team they had beaten twice in the regular season.

"No, we don't," senior center Laura Harper said when asked whether the Terps had a chance to grab a top seed. "We know what it's like to be a No. 2 seed. It doesn't matter if we're a No. 3 seed. It really does not matter. We're going to come ready to play in the NCAA tournament. But, losing this early in the [ACC] tournament, I don't think it helps us to get a No. 1 seed."

After scoring on five of its first six possessions, Maryland's offense went stagnant, as the Blue Devils, under first-year coach Joanne P. McCallie, resorted to an approach that her predecessor, Gail Goestenkors, used to employ regularly against the Terps.

Specifically, Duke (23-8) swarmed Maryland's Crystal Langhorne, the ACC Player of the Year, double-teaming her in the low post and forcing her out near the foul line, where she is less effective. Langhorne finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds, close to her season averages, but she was forced to work hard for everything she got.

As a consequence, the Terps, who shoot 50 percent as a team, were forced to settle for perimeter jump shots that, this time, didn't connect. Maryland hit just 40.8 percent of its shots and only 33.3 percent in the second half.

"On most days, those shots go in, so nobody really says anything about it, but [yesterday], they just didn't fall, so it makes it look that much worse," said junior point guard Kristi Toliver, who shot 4-for-12 overall and 2-for-10 from three-point range for 10 points.

Maryland junior forward Marissa Coleman scored 20 points, including 11 from the free-throw line, to go along with seven rebounds. But she missed nine of 13 shots from the field.

The Terps, who had won eight straight, also got swamped by hot shooting from Duke senior guard Wanisha Smith, who scored a career-high 22 points, including four three-pointers. Smith, who played for Maryland assistant coach Diane Richardson at Riverdale Baptist in Upper Marlboro, made three three-pointers in front of the Terps' bench.

"Just knowing their personnel and their defense ... kind of works in my advantage sometimes," Smith said.

Smith's three-pointers triggered a 17-6 first-half run that gave Duke a 23-20 lead with 8:14 to go in the half. The Blue Devils, the tournament's third seed, never trailed from then on, thanks largely to outscoring Maryland 32-5 in points off turnovers.

"Duke did a tremendous job of being aggressive with their attack mentality on both the defensive end as well as on the offensive end," Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. "I thought we got real tentative with it. But I'm proud of the fact that we continued to battle. This one obviously hurts, hurts for our seniors and hurts our team, because I thought we were in a great place coming into this tournament. From our end, we can get better, and that's the lesson to learn here."

The Terps will wait until March 17, when the NCAA tournament field is announced, to find out where they will be seeded. They will have the comfort of being at home, as they host first- and second-round games March 23-25 at Comcast Center.

Until then, they're left with the sting of another unsuccessful ACC tournament run and how difficult it might make their push for a national title.

"This hurts. It [stinks]," Coleman said. "We wanted to win the ACC championship. We wanted to see [North] Carolina again, but we still have the NCAA tournament. I guess it's better to get all these mistakes out of the way before we get to the NCAA tournament."

milton.kent@baltsun.com

ACC women

At Greensboro, N.C.

First round

Thursday

Georgia Tech 76 Miami 49 Clemson 65 N.C. State 60,OT Boston College 57 Virginia Tech 47 Florida State 57 Wake Forest 52

Quarterfinals

Friday

Maryland 93 Boston College 81 Virginia 52 Georgia Tech 43 North Carolina 97 Clemson 77 Duke 81 Florida State 67

Semifinals

Yesterday

North Carolina 80 Virginia 65 Duke 74 Maryland 63

Championship

Today

North Carolina vs. Duke 1 p.m.

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