- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2007

This spring’s NCAA women’s basketball tournament appears likely to take on a different hue from last season, when Maryland painted the town of staid old Boston red on the way to its first championship.

Try dark blue, as in Duke.

The Blue Devils boosted their record to 28-0 last night by swatting Maryland 69-57 before a gloomy throng of 17,950 at Comcast Center, and it’s unlikely even the most rabid Terrapins supporter would bet on another net-cutting exhibition April 3 in Cleveland.

As far as Maryland vs. Duke is concerned, it is now possible to regard the Terps’ 78-75 overtime victory in the 2006 national championship game strictly as an anomaly. That and last year’s ACC tournament game are the only times Maryland has emerged victorious in its last 18 skirmishes with the dratted Dookies from Durham.

In fact, any shade of blue might be enough to induce tears around College Park these days. Besides losses to Duke by 19 and 12 points, the Terps also absorbed a 13-point whacking from North Carolina — their other ancient ACC nemesis.

So despite the Terps’ 25-4 record, there is more than reasonable doubt that they can go all the way this time. There’s no question the Terps have defended their national championship valiantly, but lightning is unlikely to strike twice.

Better then to enjoy the bigger and happier issue of women’s basketball finally getting the attention and applause it deserves. Just ask Shay Doron.

The Maryland senior from Israel began her college career against Coppin State before an intimate gathering of 687 fans at Comcast Center in November 2003. Yesterday’s capacity crowd was the second there for the women this season, and the paying customers were just as howlingly enthusiastic — if not as ultimately rewarded — as those who watched the Maryland men defeat Duke one week earlier.

Both coaches, Maryland’s Brenda Frese and Duke’s Gail Goestenkors, termed yesterday’s outpouring a great day for women’s hoops, but Doron was hardly smiling. Not after being presented with solid evidence that Duke will be the team to beat this postseason.

Doron is one of only two Maryland seniors, and the three-year team captain tried bravely to deal with the loss in her final home game. Oddly, Frese did not take out Doron in the final minute, costing her a chance to receive what certainly would have been a hearty tribute from the remaining fans. But then again, nobody ever said coaches are normal people.

Although Maryland was still in it at halftime, trailing 35-29, Duke senior point guard Lindsey (“Don’t Call Me Tonya”) Harding, already had given the Terps a hint that it wasn’t to be their day.

Firing the ball from about every possible location, Harding hit her first six shots, nine of 10 with 20 points in the first half — nearly three times as many as any Maryland player. The Terps hung around for a while after intermission but never really eased into contention. Harding cooled off in the second half, going 3-for-10, and she had plenty of company on the other side. Maryland hit a woeful 33.3 percent in the half, startling inefficiency from one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Their 57 points were the Terps’ lowest output of the season.

Afterward, Frese managed to sound sincere when she heaped compliments on Harding, saying, “If Lindsey isn’t the [national] player of the year, I’d like to know who is. I just hope the NCAA doesn’t grant her another year of eligibility.”

Har de har har. Then again, Frese deserves credit for cracking even a bad joke under such circumstances.

Goestenkors offered similar sentiments and noted, “Lindsey always does whatever we need her to do.”

No dissent will be heard around Terptown this morning — and no laughter either.

“You could have picked a better scenario,” Doron conceded of her last day at Comcast. “But if we lost this game and can win another [national title], I’ll take it.”

Don’t hold your breath, kid.

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