- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2007

It has been a remarkable season for the Maryland women’s basketball team, one that includes the first women’s sellout at Comcast Center, an 18-0 start and a No. 1 ranking for much of the season.

But there is one glaring component missing from the Terrapins’ resume — a big-time victory.

No. 1 Duke further proved it is this season’s title favorite, dismissing No. 6 Maryland with a 69-57 victory in a national championship rematch before a disappointed sellout crowd of 17,950.

Guard Lindsey Harding scored a career-high 29 points, and the Blue Devils grabbed more rebounds, routinely won loose balls and showed a champion’s poise while improving to 28-0 and clinching the ACC regular season title.

“Expectations after you win a national championship are a lot higher,” said Maryland coach Brenda Frese, whose team lost its No. 1 ranking after a 19-point loss at Duke on Jan. 13. “But I think we have to have perspective in where we are at. Duke is playing with two great seniors right now, with Lindsey and Alison [Bales].”

Maryland scored a season low and was badly beaten in another signature home game after suffering a 13-point loss to North Carolina last month. The Terps (25-4, 9-4 ACC) might need to win their regular season finale Sunday at Boston College to secure one of four first-round byes in next week’s ACC tournament.

The Blue Devils’ destruction began with Harding, who had a then-career-best 28 points in the first meeting. Harding scored the Blue Devils’ first nine points, made her first six shots and had 20 points at halftime on 9-for-10 shooting. The senior made two 3-pointers early and regularly beat defenders on the perimeter before nailing midrange jumpers.

“When a player is scoring from every angle and every position, it takes the life out of your defense,” said Maryland’s Shay Doron, who played her final game in College Park, along with fellow senior Aurelie Noirez. “I thought we had a pretty good defense on her, and she was hitting everything.”

It did not help that Maryland failed to get the ball inside to leading scorer Crystal Langhorne. The junior center, who came in averaging 14.7 points, did not take a shot until 2:25 remained in the first half. She had two points at the break and finished with 15.

Maryland forced shots — especially in the second half — and made only three of 16 3-pointers. Kristi Toliver, who came in leading the country at 50.4 percent from 3-point range, missed eight of 10 from beyond the arc.

The Blue Devils shot 49.2 percent and outrebounded Maryland 41-33.

“They had some crucial offensive rebounds when we would get stops on the defensive end,” said Frese, whose team was troubled by the 6-foot-7 Bales (12 points, 12 rebounds). “It definitely hurts your momentum. We have to be mentally tough enough to follow through and get the rebound.”

The game was tied at 23-23 with 5:52 left in the first half when Duke took over with an eight-point run. The Terps failed to score on seven consecutive possessions, which included three turnovers.

The Blue Devils took the lead for good after Carrem Gay (14 points) got her own rebound and Wanisha Smith cashed in with a slashing left-handed layup. Gay’s score widened the margin to four, and she extended the lead to 29-23 with a push shot while crossing the lane. After a backcourt steal, Harding made a short jumper to push the lead to eight points with 1:01 left.

Maryland had several chances to get back into the game in the second half but couldn’t convert. Duke went ahead 52-40 on Bridgette Mitchell’s putback with 13:16 left. The Terps went on a 6-1 run and cut the lead to 53-46 on Langhorne’s layup off an offensive rebound.

Maryland held the Blue Devils scoreless on their next four possessions but couldn’t score. Duke’s Joy Cheek effectively sealed the contest with a driving layup to push the lead back to nine with 6:36 left.

Maryland, though, lost to Duke last season before beating it in the ACC tournament and in overtime to win the national championship.

“Last year is over,” Harding said. “We can’t win that championship. We just have to get our own this year.”

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