- The Washington Times - Friday, March 24, 2006

Night after night during her freshman season, Maryland center Crystal Langhorne remained on the floor almost the entire game.

Help from the bench usually wasn’t going to arrive, especially after classmate Laura Harper ruptured her Achilles tendon even before conference play started. So Langhorne played on, consistently both logging more than 35 minutes and gasping for air afterward.

“Dead tired? Yeah,” Langhorne recalled this week. “A lot of times after those 40-plus minute games, I was just breathing hard. This year, it’s so much easier for us.”

If there is one simple explanation for the Maryland women’s basketball team’s nearly season-long stay in the top 10 this year, it is depth. Sure, coach Brenda Frese can trot out five high school All-America picks at one time, and there’s no doubt the Terps’ experience of losing in the second round of the NCAA tournament the last two years taught some lessons.

But there’s good reason the Terps have sported T-shirts declaring a “40 Minutes of Shell” approach since the NCAA tournament began. Maryland (30-4) possesses a reliable nine-player rotation, one that has allowed it to deploy a relentless up-tempo attack (in some ways like the mid-1990s Arkansas men’s teams) and reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1992.

The depth should be especially helpful tonight at an altitude of more than 5,000 miles in Albuquerque, N.M. There, the second-seeded Terps meet third-seeded and defending national champion Baylor (26-6) in an Albuquerque bracket semifinal at the Pit.

Maryland almost didn’t make it there, struggling with nerves and St. John’s in Tuesday’s second-round game. As some of her stars encountered fatigue and fouls, Frese squeezed some minutes out of Aurelie Noirez and Charmaine Carr before the Terps pulled away for an 81-74 victory.

“The fact we have a rotation to be able to go nine deep I think has helped us in advancing,” Frese said. “We were in serious foul trouble [Tuesday] in the second half, and to be able to have the kind of depth that we have is what you need.”

Such a scenario might not have been possible a year ago, but the Terps’ roster is better equipped to handle in-game troubles. Maryland added point guard Kristi Toliver and the versatile Marissa Coleman as part of an impressive freshman class, and both provided immediate help.

Harper’s return from injury was just as important. The 6-foot-4 sophomore is averaging 11.3 points and 7.1 rebounds, and her play coupled with Jade Perry’s improvement has alleviated some of the pressure on Langhorne.

“They can’t focus in on Lang anymore,” Coleman said. “You have Harp, who’s a great scorer and a great rebounder and she can block shots. It definitely frees up our post a lot more. It’s going to be hard to stop Crystal Langhorne and Laura Harper in the same game.”

Particularly if both are rested. Langhorne averages a manageable 27.6 minutes (down from 31.1 last year) but still leads the Terps in scoring and rebounding. Junior Shay Doron’s minutes are also down (from 32.6 to 30.8) from a year ago, but both have been fresh late in Maryland’s many tight games in the final two months.

“I was playing 40 minutes, Shay was playing 40 minutes,” Langhorne said. “That extra six, seven minutes, it gives you a lot more energy to go out there and play.”

The Terps will no doubt need all the energy possible tonight against Sophia Young and the Bears. The winner will meet either fifth-seeded Utah or eighth-seeded Boston College in Monday’s regional final, with the winner assured a spot at the Final Four in Boston.

It’s a destination the Terps are well aware of since there was still space on the “40 Minutes of Shell” tees to slip “Boston ‘06” onto one of the sleeves.

“You want to keep things in perspective as far as where we want to go,” Harper said. “Who doesn’t want to be in Boston?”

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