- The Washington Times - Monday, March 6, 2006

GREENSBORO, N.C. — A rubber match between the Maryland and North Carolina women’s basketball teams likely will come only if both reach the Final Four.

But if yesterday’s basketball game/track meet was any indication, consider the Terrapins and Tar Heels two of the favorites to be in Boston April 2-4.

A month after Maryland dealt North Carolina its only defeat, the top-ranked Tar Heels got their revenge in the ACC tournament championship game at Greensboro Coliseum, pulling away in the final minutes for a 91-80 victory.

“We’re 1-1 with them now, and I hope to see them again very soon,” Maryland guard Kristi Toliver said.

Maryland has to wait a week to learn whether it will be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament for the first since 1989. North Carolina and Duke are also expected to receive top seeds.

“The sky’s the limit with this team,” Terps coach Brenda Frese said. “These players have been hungry and coachable all season long, and they’ve continued to want to learn and grow and get better. I thought they grew up in front of our eyes in this tournament. I saw some great things from this young squad the past three days.”

Down 13 points early in the second half, fourth-ranked Maryland (28-4) cut the lead to three points with 5:20 left but managed only six points in its last 11 possessions.

Five Maryland players scored in double figures, led by Jade Perry’s 18 points off the bench. Offense wasn’t the problem.

“It came down to our defense,” guard Shay Doron said. “We didn’t stop them. It wasn’t them; it was everything we weren’t doing — hustling back, boxing out, the things that we can control.”

North Carolina had 20 offensive rebounds, which it turned into 17 second-chance points. The Tar Heels also controlled the paint, outscoring Maryland 58-38.

North Carolina (29-1), which repeated as tournament champions, got 26 points apiece from MVP Ivory Latta and forward Erlana Larkins.

Larkins was 9-for-14 from the field and grabbed 12 rebounds.

“She’s difficult to defend on the block, and she’s strong, physical and aggressive,” Frese said. “She backed us down low and was able to get those easy layups. She was a beast on the glass.”

Larkins’ bucket with 13:39 remaining gave the Tar Heels their biggest lead at 65-52. But then Maryland’s offense got on track. Starting with Laura Harper’s bucket at the 12:48 mark, the Terps scored on six of their next nine possessions, including a 3-pointer by Ashleigh Newman and two 3s by Marissa Coleman, to cut the lead to 69-65.

With 5:20 left, Newman’s bucket made it 79-76 Tar Heels.

But Maryland never could make one last, crucial defensive stop. In the second half, the Terps cut the lead to five, four or three points a combined 10 times.

“That was frustrating,” Toliver said. “That was the idea we had in the huddle — get stops and then get conversions.”

Following Newman’s score, Larkins’ two free throws and Latta’s driving layup pushed the lead back to seven points. Maryland would get no closer than five points.

“You saw Carolina’s explosiveness and team speed [down the stretch],” Frese said. “They did not want to be denied today.”

The loss doesn’t exactly force Maryland back to the drawing board, but the time off will allow Doron (bruised thigh) and Crystal Langhorne (hyperextended knee sustained against Duke on Saturday) to heal.

“We’ll definitely be riding a high off of this, making it to the championship game and competing the way we did,” Frese said. “We’ll use the time to rest and get back to the basics with our defense and rebounding.”

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