- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2006

BOSTON — Shay Doron has a simple explanation for the 14 consecutive losses to Duke suffered by the Maryland Terrapins during the last five years.

“In the past, Duke was obviously better,” she said.

Clearly so. The Terps failed to beat the Blue Devils from January 2001 to February 2006, a stretch that includes two double-digit losses this season.

But then the Terps used a 9-0 run to defeat top-ranked Duke 78-70 in the semifinals of the ACC tournament, a win that gave them an additional shot of confidence and set the table for their run through the NCAA women’s tournament.

“The tides haven’t completely turned, but we’re definitely even now,” Doron said. “We’re not nervous now, and we’ve proven we can beat them. We know we can beat them, and we know we can play with them.”

With that fearless attitude, Maryland (33-4) plays in its first national championship game tonight against the Blue Devils (31-3).

While Maryland is playing in its first Final Four since 1989, Duke is in the Final Four for the fourth time since 1999 but is also looking for its first title. The Devils lost to Purdue in the 1999 final.

This marks the first same-conference title game in 10 years and guarantees the ACC its first national champion since North Carolina in 1994.

Maryland ousted top-ranked North Carolina 81-70 on Sunday. Duke advanced by pounding LSU 64-45.

With the fourth meeting, there are, of course, no secrets.

“I think these players could give you the scouting report by heart at this point,” Terps coach Brenda Frese said yesterday at TD Banknorth Garden.

Both teams want to play the same way — create turnovers and score in transition (both teams average more than 80 points a game) but also make a big effort to get the ball inside (Crystal Langhorne and Laura Harper for Maryland, Monique Currie, Mistie Williams and Alison Bales for Duke).

Frese said she again will stress rebounding. Maryland outrebounded North Carolina 41-31 on Sunday and scored 50 points in the paint. Harper scored 24, and Langhorne had 23. Duke could be vulnerable: It allowed LSU 14 offensive rebounds in the semifinals.

But Langhorne and Harper don’t have to carry the Terps. All five starters average at least 11.3 points a game, a first for Maryland since the 1982-83 season.

“They’re an exceptional team, and they can score at all five positions,” Duke coach Gail Gostenkors said. “They push the ball, play great defense, are a prolific 3-point shooting team and how Harper has really stepped up for them with her added scoring, it makes it that much more difficult to defend Langhorne.”

Said Maryland point guard Kristi Toliver: “We knew we would have five scorers on the floor at all times. People have taken over games for us, but the fact we all play together and in sync makes us that much more lethal and dangerous.”

Toliver took over the Utah game last week, and Harper had a career high against North Carolina. But it’s Langhorne who will get most of the attention. She’s averaging 24 points and 8.4 rebounds in the NCAA tournament.

Teammate Marissa Coleman calls Langhorne “The Franchise.”

“I’m taking credit for it — I think I gave it to her in Albuquerque,” Coleman said. “It’s fun picking on Crystal about those types of things because she’s so humble and modest and hates it when we call her that. But she’s been such a dominating player for us, you can’t help but call her ‘The Franchise.’ ”

Langhorne despises the nickname but knows she has to play like a star tonight.

“I hope they stop calling me that,” she said. “But I guess that means I have the respect of my teammates.”

Maryland also respects Duke’s top players. Monique Currie has averaged 22.3 points in the teams’ three meetings, including 31 in the second regular-season game when the Blue Devils rallied from an eight-point halftime deficit.

But the Terps aren’t expected to win, which is fine with them.

“We just use that to our advantage,” Coleman said. “Nobody thinks we can win the big games, so we play fearless.”

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