- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 5, 2006

BOSTON — An improbable Maryland women’s basketball season ended with an incredible comeback.

Freshman Kristi Toliver’s 3-pointer with 6.1 seconds left in regulation capped a 13-point rally, and two free throws apiece by Toliver and fellow freshman Marissa Coleman in the final 34.2 seconds of overtime propelled Maryland to a 78-75 victory against Duke last night at TD Banknorth Garden for the Terrapins’ first national championship.

Maryland finished the season 6-0 in overtime.

“Right before overtime, we were in the huddle and Shay [Doron] said, ‘What better way to win the national championship than in overtime,’” Coleman said.

Coleman (10 points, 14 rebounds) was one of five Maryland players in double figures. Toliver, Doron and most outstanding player Laura Harper each scored 16 points, and Crystal Langhorne scored 12 points.

Maryland, down 38-28 at halftime, outscored Duke 50-37 in the second half and overtime.

Duke’s Jessica Foley hit two free throws with 18.8 seconds left in regulation. After a timeout, Toliver used a variety of screens to get open in front of the Maryland bench. With 6-foot-7 Alison Bales defending her, Toliver connected.

“The play was set to have me go off one screen and flare off another,” Toliver said. “Big time players want the ball in big-time situations, so I wanted to take the shot. I saw Alison Bales step up and she’s a big girl who is long. As soon as it left my hands and it got over her, I knew it was going in.”

Appearing in its first NCAA title game, Maryland (34-4) put together the second-largest comeback in title game history. The Terps captured the trophy three years after winning only 10 games, and with a starting lineup featuring two freshman and two sophomores and after a first half in which the Terps missed 21 of 31 shots and trailed by 10 points.

“The thing I enjoy the most is taking in everybody else’s emotions right now,” Terps coach Brenda Frese said. “It’s pretty surreal. Looking into the eyes of every player, staff member, fan and how much joy is out there because they understand how much hard work was required.”

Toliver’s two free throws with 34.2 seconds left gave Maryland its first lead of overtime at 76-75. Duke’s Abby Waner missed a jumper at the other end and Coleman hit two foul shots with 13.4 seconds left. Foley’s 3-pointer grazed the rim as time expired.

Duke (31-4) lost in the final game for the second time in the past eight years. The Blue Devils had defeated Maryland 14 consecutive times but lost the teams’ last two meetings — last night and in the ACC tournament semifinals.

“I feel utter disappointment right now for my players and my seniors,” Blue Devils coach Gail Goestenkors said. “It’s killing me right now — not for myself, but for my players.”

Several Duke mini-runs — four of either six or eight consecutive points — helped it build its first-half advantage. Maryland, meanwhile, scored on consecutive possessions only three times in the half. Langhorne attempted only one shot in 17 first-half minutes and Toliver was 1-for-9. Doron helped keep the Terps afloat with two 3-pointers.

“I told them at halftime to just stay confident,” Frese said. “That was probably some of the poorest basketball we’ve played.”

With that in mind, Goestenkors thought Duke — which shot only 13 of 34 in the first half — should have built a bigger lead.

“We were so excited coming out of the gate and we got great looks but didn’t make them pay for it,” Goestenkors said. “That would have helped us a great deal to make some of those easy baskets early.”

Maryland trailed 41-28 before it went to work. The Terps scored on 13 of their next 17 possessions. Langhorne went 1-for-2 from the line with 5:22 left for a 59-58 lead.

With the game tied 62-62, Duke went on a 6-2 run. Ashleigh Newman hit one of two free throws and Toliver hit an off-balance jumper to slice the lead to 68-67. Foley’s two free throws gave the Blue Devils a three-point lead before Toliver forced overtime.

“She’s practiced that shot a million times in her mind and in her backyard,” Frese said.

Said Coleman: “When Kristi hit that shot and everybody went crazy, I knew we were going to win because overtime has been our time.”

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