SPOKANE, Wash.-- --Flourishing with offense and sinking with defense, the Maryland Terps came and the Maryland Terps went.
One of their better performances of a promising season came when they needed it most. Despite their efforts, the best player the program has ever known went into the locker room at night's end to pack away her career, to pack away her team's national championship hopes.
In a game that just as easily could have been played next week in Tampa, Fla., site of this year's Final Four, the top-seeded Terps were ousted from this year's NCAA tournament, 98-87, by Stanford, a No. 2 seed that is as capable as anyone of hoisting a trophy next week.
Last night's win for Stanford was as entertaining for fans as it was heartbreaking for players. When it was over - as the Cardinal celebrated and the Terps reflected - you couldn't help but notice that Maryland was saying goodbye to more than a season that once carried so much hope.
Posting one of the lowest point totals of her senior season, Crystal Langhorne leaves Maryland as the best player to ever don a Terps uniform.
The Terps will find out next season just how difficult she is to replace. A two-time All-American, the Terps' all-time leading scorer, their all-time leading rebounder. She'll be rewarded next week when she becomes one of the WNBA's top draft picks.
Two nights after scoring 28 points against Vanderbilt, Langhorne struggled to find a rhythm last night. In her final game for the Terps, she finished with 13 points and eight rebounds.
After the game, Langhorne failed to fight back the tears, ducking her face into her jacket and wiping the pain from moist cheeks: "As a senior, I didn't want my career to end. ... It's never going to be like this.
"We just didn't want it to end," Langhorne said, her eyes red.
Said Maryland coach Brenda Frese: "As difficult as right now is for our team and our locker room, I don't want to be sad that it's over, I want to be happy that it happened."
Two years removed from their national title, the Terps knocked loudly on the Final Four door. Unfortunately for Maryland, guarding that door was a hungry and sharp-shooting Stanford team.
History should note that the Terps had the talent to make a return trip to the Final Four. Anyone who has watched these Terps wasn't surprised by last night's outcome; the high-powered offense has always been vulnerable defensively. That unavoidable truth was never more apparent than last night along the perimeter, where Stanford's sharp shooters lit up the scoreboard like a Las Vegas casino sign. The Cardinal drilled 14 three-pointers, and its talented senior, Candice Wiggins, finished with 41 points.
If Stanford wasn't hitting shots from every corner of the arena last night, the Terps would be packing their best summer wear for Tampa. Just consider some of the numbers from last night:
The Terps out-rebounded the Cardinal, 36-29. Maryland outshot Stanford, too, 54 percent to 51. In fact, in the first half, the Terps shot a blistering 64 percent from the field. If, before the game, you told Frese that her team would win these crucial categories, she no doubt would have been pricing hotels in Tampa.
"Sometimes it's just not your day, and you have to give credit where credit's due," Frese said after the game. "I thought Stanford did a tremendous job tonight for 40 minutes."
Last night, we were reminded why it's so difficult for a title team to claw its way back into the national semifinals. Two Final Four visits in three years is no easy feat. In the past 20 years, Connecticut and Tennessee have combined for 11 national titles. (Stanford is the only other school to win more than once in that period.)
Let's forget about these perennial powers for a second. Other teams have won titles, but they usually fade from the Final Four picture. Consider: Baylor won the title in 2005. Notre Dame in 2001. Purdue 1999, North Carolina 1994, Texas Tech 1993. Oh yeah, and Maryland in 2006. None returned to the Final Four the following year, and only Purdue fought its way back two years later.
While Maryland says goodbye to a pair of valuable seniors, a glance through the final scorebook reveals that last night's top two scorers - led by Kristi Toliver's career-high 35 - are returning, coming back to build off something started by Langhorne and Laura Harper.
Last night, the Terps were close. Despite the final score, the difference between the teams was nearly indistinguishable until the very end of the game.
As the Terps walked off the court - and as the best women's player the program has ever known packed away her career - Stanford players climbed a ladder on the court. One by one, they snipped away at a nylon net, a symbol and reward for Stanford from an exhaustive and entertaining game.
One great program returns to the Final Four.
Another returns home.