Final Four! Final Four!
March 27, 2006
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Maryland got dragged into the first overtime of the NCAA tournament.
Not that it cared: The Terrapins knew they were headed to the Final Four once it hit the extra session.
"Overtime is our time. I didn't worry about it," said Kristi Toliver, who made just about everything she put up in second-seeded Maryland's 75-65 overtime victory over No. 5 Utah on Monday night.
Toliver set career highs with 28 points and six 3-pointers and Crystal Langhorne added 16 points and 10 rebounds, for the Terps, who are returning to the Final Four for the first time since 1989 and play Sunday against the winner of the Cleveland Regional final between North Carolina and Tennessee.
"Our confidence in overtime is out of this world," said Laura Harper, who scored six points in OT. "I think everybody on this team knew we'd be flying through the overtime."
The Terrapins (32-4) had a stomach virus circulate around the team during their long weekend in Albuquerque, making things even tougher than they had expected.
"I still feel a little under the weather, since mine just hit me last night," Toliver said. "I think we'll just be extremely happy going to Boston."
Maryland improved to 5-0 in overtime games this season but it was hardly easy, not with the Utes (27-7) putting up a heck of a fight.
Kim Smith had 17 points and 18 rebounds to lead the Mountain West champions, and Shona Thorburn finished with 10 points after missing the last 5 minutes of the first half to handle an ankle injury.
But Thorburn, a 71 percent free-throw shooter, also missed a golden opportunity. With 7.8 seconds to go in regulation, she made 1-of-2 from the line when she could have sent Utah to its first Final Four ever by making both.
"I had the two biggest free throws of my life," Thorburn said, breaking into tears. "It crossed my mind, that these two free throws could put us in the Final Four."
Instead, it was tied at 63 after 40 minutes and then it was all Maryland in overtime. Harper scored the first two buckets, Shay Doron and Langhorne each added a layup and the Terps raced away.
"It always seems like it's Harper who sparks us in overtime," said Terps coach Brenda Frese, who reached the Final Four in her fourth season at Maryland. "I just felt when we scored the first buckets, we'd be able to open a lead."
The Utes, who rallied from 15-point deficits to win in the first and second rounds and erased a late seven-point margin against Maryland, opened the extra period by missing their first three attempts, and they didn't have enough left to come back again.
"In the end, we did not keep the mass off the glass," Utah coach Elaine Elliott said. "But until the end, we did a very good job."
Langhorne posted her second double-double of the regional, where she was named most outstanding player. She had a career-high 34 points and 15 rebounds in the win over defending NCAA champion Baylor.
Smith, coming off a seven-point, 3-for-13 shooting performance against Boston College, couldn't find her range in the first half and missed all six of her attempts. But she finally got going after the break, scoring Utah's first 16 points of the second half.
Toliver, though, was just heating up, too.
She scored 13 of Maryland's first 21 points in the second half, confidently raising her arms after hitting three 3-pointers as the Terps built a 51-44 lead with 11:30 remaining.
"Kristi was hitting. It was back and forth with her and Kim. I thought they both stepped up with a lot of confidence," Frese said.
That's also when Langhorne, held to four first-half points, got involved, and it was Toliver who usually found her underneath for layups. Maryland led 53-44 with 10:25 to go after Langhorne took a feed from Toliver, capping a 9-2 burst.
"K.T. (Toliver) was hitting a lot of shots and that just opened it up for me," Langhorne said.
The Utes pulled to 63-62 after two layups by freshman Morgan Warburton, then had possession with 24.7 seconds to play in regulation. Thorburn drove when the clock reached 10 seconds, drew a foul and, after a Maryland timeout, missed the first but made the second.
"I have mixed emotions," Elliott said. "We were right there and it's an awful feeling to lose and not get that next step. You just try to tell these young players that everything that happened before what we feel right now is what this team is."
Toliver missed an opportunity to win it in regulation but her shot from the top of the key bounced off the rim. The Terps had another chance when Doron grabbed the rebound but her putback didn't drop.