- The Washington Times - Friday, March 31, 2006

Crystal Langhorne couldn’t believe her ears.

After facing junk defenses the entire ACC season as the Maryland women’s basketball team’s top scorer and rebounder, Langhorne learned from her coaches that Baylor would play her straight up in the teams’ March 25 regional semifinal game.

Baylor, the defending national champions, was really going to leave Langhorne alone?

“It had been a long time,” the 6-foot-2 sophomore center said of facing a one-on-one matchup.

But that’s what the Bears did. Langhorne made them pay with a 34-point, 15-rebound tour de force that included 14 of 18 field-goal shooting. Two nights later, she scored 18 points as Maryland defeated Utah to advance to its first Final Four since 1989. The Terps face North Carolina at 7 p.m. Sunday in Boston.

“When we saw what Baylor was doing, our gameplan was pretty simple — pound the ball into Lang and watch her score,” forward Marissa Coleman said. “She’s impossible to stop one-on-one and she proved that against Baylor.”

Maryland has watched Langhorne score for two seasons. On Tuesday she became the first Maryland player since 1989 to be named second-team All-American. She leads the Terps with 17.2 points and 8.8 rebounds a game, has 15 double-doubles and leads the nation with a 66.5 percent field goal percentage.

“That’s a tremendous accomplishment for Crystal and this team, and those kinds of awards don’t happen without teammates getting you the ball,” coach Brenda Frese said.

Langhorne knows that. After arriving in the locker room at halftime of the Baylor game, she plopped into her seat and said, “Thanks for giving me the ball, guys.”

Laughter ensued. That quick-witted comment has become customary for Langhorne, who became an emotional and vocal leader this season.

“The greatest strength she has brought to the table is her leadership,” Frese said. “Having played with USA Basketball and been a tri-captain for them, she came into the year with much more confidence about being vocal with the team.”

Langhorne said the emergence was planned because of the team’s two freshmen starters.

“We had a senior point guard last year so I knew right away that Shay [Doron] and I had to take on more of that role,” she said.

Maryland would be perfectly fine even if Langhorne let her play do the talking. A double-figure scorer in all but three lopsided wins, she has been a force, her ability to draw double- and triple-teams giving the guards open shots from the perimeter.

“She’s amazed me,” Coleman said. “Some of the things she does on the court, I sometimes find myself in awe.”

Utah learned from Baylor’s flawed gameplan in the regional final, collapsing as many as four defenders on Langhorne. But she didn’t get agitated even though her first shot didn’t come until the 14:13 mark and her first points until 7:42 remained in the first half.

“She’s seen double, triple and quadruple teams since last year,” Frese said. “When Laura Harper went down with her Achilles tendon injury last year, Crystal had to learn how to pass out of a double team very quickly. That’s the thing that makes us so dangerous this year.”

Said Doron: “As freshmen, we probably all force things and don’t quite understand at first how college defenses work. But she learned very quickly that it’s tough to do things alone.”

Langhorne has 72 assists this season, compared to 38 last year. She said the All-American honor is due more to the team’s 32-4 record.

“It’s a product of the team,” she said. “We have a lot of scorers on this team and when I get the ball down low, teams have to make a decision — double- and triple-team me and that leaves our shooters open.”

Langhorne has grown used to all of the defensive attention. As a senior at Willingboro, N.J., she was considered the nation’s top post player and scored 2,776 career points. She was a part of Frese’s first top-five recruiting class and has started all 68 games of her Maryland career.

Langhorne and Maryland’s next challenge is North Carolina. The Tar Heels have the inside-outside duo of Erlana Larkins and Ivory Latta. But Langhorne said the youthful Terps aren’t just satisfied to be in the Final Four.

“I’ve been telling everybody that I’ve taken a quote from [North Carolina men’s coach Roy Williams],” she said. “He said, ‘It doesn’t matter how young a team is — if you have great players, you can beat anybody.’ ”

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