- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 31, 2009

CHARLOTTESVILLE | Virginia coach Debbie Ryan walked into her postgame news conference the same way she walked into the pregame locker room - choking back her emotions.

On a day when Virginia’s coach of 32 years attended the funeral of N.C. State coach Kay Yow, her mentor in coaching, her team gave her one of its gutsiest performances.

Lyndra Littles scored 30 points, Monica Wright had 28 and No. 19 Virginia rallied from 13 points down in the second half for a 89-81 victory against No. 8 Maryland on Friday night.

“It’s been a really hard week for me,” Ryan said, trying to keep her emotions in check.

She said she didn’t know if the Cavaliers’ effort was inspired by their desire to win for her, but said, “I know they played with very strong hearts tonight. They played for the ‘Y’ that’s on their little shooting shirt that they had today. They knew how much it meant to me.”

The stakes had to be clear to the players long before the opening tip.

“I didn’t walk into my locker room tonight and start screaming and yelling. I was literally crying when I walked in,” Ryan said. “My team could see that everything had kind of come to the forefront. I had a hard time. I had a hard time during the national anthem.”

The game itself didn’t look all that hopeful until Virginia’s big three took command.

Aisha Mohammed added 19 points and 16 rebounds for the Cavaliers (17-4, 4-2 ACC), who ended a six-game slide against Maryland (16-4, 4-2) and a 17-game skid against the three ACC teams that have separated themselves from the rest: Maryland, North Carolina and Duke.

And they did it with their coach in mind, Littles said.

“I think it just shows her that when she’s going through whatever she’s going through emotionally that we have her back and we’re here for her,” she said. “It really would have been a burden for us to come out here and not play to our potential and lose this game.”

Instead, they beat a team ranked in the top 10 for the second time this season. In mid-November, Virginia became only the 10th team to win at then-No. 5 Tennessee.

Maryland arrived having beaten North Carolina in its last game and riding a three-game winning streak, but saw a big lead evaporate against Virginia’s attacking style.

“They started getting the loose balls. They outhustled us, got easy transition baskets,” Kristi Toliver said. “Once they got their confidence, they had that momentum.”

Marissa Coleman led the Terrapins with 19 points. Dee Liles added 18 and Toliver 17, but Toliver made just three of her last 11 shots after making her first four.

Trailing 69-59 with seven minutes left, Maryland went on a 9-3 run to pull within four, but Wright made a 15-footer and Littles followed a turnover with two free throws. The teams essentially traded points the rest of the way, with Virginia’s coming at the foul line.

The Terps scored seven of the first nine points after halftime to open a 46-33 lead, their largest, before Littles scored 11 and Wright 10 in a 23-8 burst that gave Virginia the lead.

Toliver put Maryland back ahead with a 3-pointer just 17 seconds later, but Virginia didn’t let up. Littles took a feed from Mohammed for a layup, the Terps turned it over, and Mohammed made it 60-57. After another Maryland turnover, Wright collected a long rebound and fed Littles inside, and Littles then followed a miss by the Terps by hustling for her own rebound and scoring, the ball dropping as the referee signaled a foul.

She made the shot, and Wright’s basket after two Terps misses gave Virginia a 67-57 lead.

The Cavaliers had outscored Maryland 34-11 in a span of less than nine minutes.

“All the things that we pride ourselves on doing, Virginia did,” Coleman said.

Neither team led by more than three in the first half until Maryland broke a 25-25 tie by going on a 9-0 run. It scored on three drives, a putback and a free throw. And the Terps did it without Toliver, their leading scorer, who sat the last 13 minutes with two personal fouls.

Mohammed’s basket at the buzzer pulled Virginia within 39-31 at the break.


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