Maryland is the only team to beat top-ranked North Carolina in the regular season. They did it again Sunday night, outhustling and outmuscling the disjointed Tar Heels 81-70 in the NCAA women's national semifinal.
In just four short years under coach Brenda Frese, the Terps have joined the nation's elite.
"They have the heart of a lion," Frese said. "They believe in each other ... I'm really proud of them."
The Terps confounded the Tar Heels' uptempo game, forcing them in to a halfcourt match for much of the game.
Crystal Langhorne and Laura Harper asserted their strong inside presence — and the sophomores intend to be around for a while. Harper had 24 points and Langhorne scored 23 for the Terps, who had beaten the Tar Heels, their Atlantic Coast Conference rival, 98-95 in overtime in the regular season.
Carolina avenged that with a 91-80 in the ACC tournament, but the stakes were much higher for this rubber match.
Erlana Larkins led the Tar Heels with 28 points and 10 rebounds. Ivory Latta, Carolina's feisty point guard, was banged up, knocked down and carried off the court at one point.
Though she returned, she never quite got on track, finishing with 14 points, four assists and made just one of 10 3-pointers.
Maryland ran its halfcourt came to near perfection, getting the ball into Langhorne or Harper for basket after basket. The Terps outscored North Carolina 50-38 in the paint and finished with a 41-31 edge on the boards.
Maryland was making its first Final Four appearance since 1989 but had the swagger of a team that's been here before. The Terps led by just two at the half, then began to methodically add to the lead.
Kristi Tolliver's 3-pointer with 8 minutes left gave the Terrapins their largest lead at 63-52. As the ball dropped through, Tolliver nodded toward the Maryland fan section and coolly gestured "bring it on."
For a while, it did seem Maryland was ready to run away with it. But Latta and the Heels had one more run left: North Carolina chipped away with a 11-4 run and Latta's two free throws with 1:06 left got the Heels within 3 at 73-70.
But there was no panic in these Terps. Shay Doron played cat-and-mouse with Latta as she brought the ball upcourt, then dished to a wide-open Coleman for a layup. The Heels would get no closer.
Doron said the game plan was to keep Latta "in front us all the time, make sure we contested every one of her shots and try to keep the ball out of her hand."
Latta fouled out with .7 seconds remaining when she wrestled Coleman to the ground. She walked off to an ovation and a hug from coach Sylvia Hatchell and watched quietly as the Terps celebrated on the sidelines.
Most of the first half was marked by missed opportunities for the Tar Heels. Carolina hit just one of its first six free throw attempts and failed to capitalize on early turnovers.
Things were even worse from 3-point range, where the Tar Heels one of 11 attempts.
The Terps, meanwhile, went inside early and often to Langhorne and the big sophomore did not disappoint. She was 7-of-8 from the floor, mostly from inside the paint, and had 16 points in the first half to give the Terps a 36-34 lead at the break.
There were some anxious moments with just under 13 minutes to play in the first period when Latta came down awkwardly on her left knee.
She lay in obvious pain for several minutes and was carried of the floor to a standing ovation from both Carolina and Maryland fans. She trotted back on the floor 2 minutes later, but it took her a while to find her rhythm and stroke.
Latta then went scoreless over the next 17 minutes; when she finally connected a driving layup, Maryland was up by nine with about 5 minutes left in the game.
In the Duke-LSU game tonight, Duke's defense ganged up on the smoothest scorer in women's college basketball, shutting down Seimone Augustus and blowing LSU away Sunday night to set up an all-ACC matchup for the NCAA title.
Mistie Williams had 14 points and nine rebounds to lead Duke to a 64-45 victory over the Lady Tigers in the tournament semifinal. Two-time Associated Press player of the year Seimone Augustus was scoreless in the first half, picking up her team-high 14 points long after it was no longer in doubt.
"It was a team effort defensively,'' Duke coach Gail Goestenkors said. "And it really takes a team to defend Seimone Augustus."
The Blue Devils (31-3) used an 11-1 run midway through the second half to open a 48-32 lead and advance to the championship game against Maryland, which beat North Carolina 81-70 earlier. Duke went 2-1 against the Terrapins during the season, losing in the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.
LSU (31-4) was just the seventh school to place its men's and women's teams in the Final Four in the same season. But, like the Lady Tigers, the men were blown out in the national semifinals, losing 59-45 to UCLA on Saturday.
One night after playground playmate Glen "Big Baby" Davis shot 29 percent in the LSU loss, Augustus went without a point or rebound in the first half. The repeat winner of the Associated Press player of the year and the nation's leading scorer with 23 points per game she did not score until 17:39 remained in the game.
"That's not the motion offense that got us here," Augustus said.
Duke's men were also a disappointment, finishing the season atop the AP poll before losing to LSU in the round of 16. But at least they still have a chance to hang another banner from the rafters at Cameron Indoor Stadium a first for the women, to go with the three won by Mike Krzyzewski's teams.
The Blue Devils did it by holding Augustus to 6-for-18 shooting. Sylvia Fowles had 13 rebounds for LSU, which lost its previous three games this season by a total of five points.
"We worked so hard this season on our defense because we were so offensive minded in the beginning,'' said Williams, whose other claim to fame is that she is the daughter of singer Chubby Checker. "As the season went on, we knew defense was going to help us win games toward the end."
Monique Currie scored 13 points, Abby Waner had 11 and Lindsey Harding had 10 with six rebounds and five assists for Duke. Allison Bales blocked two shots in the first 22 seconds she finished with six and helped Duke open an 18-4 lead with 9:24 left in the first half.
Florence Williams made a jumper to awaken LSU, and three Tigers free throws later she made another. Williams then grabbed the rebound of Augustus' miss and passed to Fowles for a layup that made it 18-13 with 4:42 left in the first.
Duke scored eight of the next 10 points, and the last five of the half, to make it 26-15.
In the second, LSU cut the deficit to 37-31 before the Blue Devils went on an 11-1 run to put the game away.
Duke's win could deflect attention away from an investigation back home into whether members of the men's lacrosse team raped an exotic dancer hired to perform at a party last month. Members of the women's baskeball team have flatly refused to comment on the case.