BOSTON - Duke was the team led by seniors.
But Maryland's underclassmen showed no fear leading the Terrapins to the program's first National Championship Tuesday night.
"We never really treated them as freshmen," Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said. "From the minute they stepped on campus they didn't act it or behave like it. They wanted the pressure, they wanted the expectations-they just played with so much confidence."
The Terrapins' starting lineup features two freshmen and two sophomores along with junior guard Shay Doron. Only one senior, Charmaine Carr, saw action during the National Championship game, and she played only three minutes.
The underclassmen led the way. Point guard Kristi Toliver, a freshman, nailed a three-pointer with six seconds left to send the game into overtime. Fellow freshman Marissa Coleman's two free-throws with 13 seconds to go in the extra period provided the Terrapins' final three-point margin.
And the Terps' sophomores were not exactly shown up by the freshmen. Forward Laura Harper was named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player after scoring 16 points in the Championship game. And center Crystal Langhorne, Maryland's most dangerous offensive threat, rebounded from a slow first half to score 12 points, including an important bucket with less than three minutes to go in overtime to pull her team back within two.
"I've seen it too many times," Duke head coach Gail Goestenkors said of Maryland's young players' poise under pressure. "I've seen many instances where the pressure is really on that they come through."
Duke's seniors did not choke. In their final game as Blue Devils, Monique Currie scored 22 and Jessica Foley added 10. Currie, Foley and Mistie Williams were all on the floor down the stretch, and it was Foley's off-target desperation three-pointer at the end of overtime that finally ended the game.
The seniors led during a dominant first half that put Duke up by 10 at the break. The Terrapin freshmen were flustered by Duke's press and transition game. But Maryland, playing in Frese's first trip to the Final Four, did not fold like another inexperienced team could have.
Coleman hit three tough jump shots in less than three minutes to help close Duke's lead from five down to one during a three-minute stretch that ended at the 6:50 mark. Langhorne and Harper also added hoops down the stretch to keep the Terps in the game.
After Toliver hit her miraculous three at the end of regulation, sophomore point guard Lindsey Harding, missed a tough 12-footer that would have won the National Championship. Seeing that Harding's attempt had glanced off the rim, the Terrapins celebrated as if they had already won the game.
And they repeated the comeback heroics in overtime.
"At halftime my teammates, we all just talked and said, 'we have been in this position a million times before this season,'" Coleman said. "We just go to do what we have been doing all season and play as a team."
In just four years at the helm of the Maryland program, Frese built a National Champion. Entering the Tournament the Terrapins were thought of as up-and-coming, but they beat UNC for the second time in the national semifinals and edged out Duke in the finals to win a first title earlier than many expected.
"All the years I've been coaching, never have I seen a team go through a season and play for each other the way they played tonight," Frese said. "You hope that we're building a dynasty here. But each and every season defines its own."
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