tampabay.com

Women's title game should be an inside job

In one form or another, the last teams standing each dominate opponents with stellar post play.

By GREG AUMAN
Published April 4, 2006


BOSTON - Duke knows it has a size advantage. Maryland is confident it has superior athleticism inside. Either way, tonight's national championship likely will be decided in the paint.

The No.3-ranked Terrapins, hoping to become the third straight No.2 seed to take the NCAA crown, have seen reminders of the importance of rebounding all week, with "REBOUND" signs posted all around them for reinforcement. Really all over.

"Oh, my goodness. They are everywhere. Even when we are sitting on the toilet," said 6-foot-4 center Laura Harper, who had a career-high 24 points Sunday in the semifinal win against No.1 North Carolina. "In the hotel, in the locker room, on the bus and even in the film room. I think they're motivating."

No word on whether Duke's restroom has a bulletin board, but coach Gail Goestenkors has sent her players the same message all season.

"Coach G told us from Day 1 that in order to win a national championship, our post play had to be top notch," said forward Mistie Williams, who led Duke with 14 points in its semifinal win against No.5 LSU. "As a post player, it's great to see our position is so important and will play a pivotal role in this game."

Both teams leaned heavily on their post players Sunday, with Maryland hitting just one 3-pointer and Duke attempting only three. The Blue Devils outscored LSU 42-16 in the paint, and Maryland outrebounded UNC 41-31.

Duke, which needs 34 rebounds tonight to set a team tournament record, has 6-foot-7 Alison Bales, 6-5 Chante Black and the 6-3 Williams, though Maryland freshman point guard Kristi Toliver said Monday that the way to beat Duke is to push the ball because the Blue Devils' frontcourt players won't be able to keep up with the Terrapins.

"I have no doubt that Kristi Toliver is faster than I am down the court," Bales deadpanned about the 5-7 guard.

Bales has set a tournament record with 27 blocks in five games, breaking the mark of 22 by Connecticut's Rebecca Lobo in 1995.

She called Duke's loss to Maryland in the ACC tournament, in which she was a nonfactor, playing only 13 minutes, "a low point" that has sparked her tournament success.

"Just watching her through the tournament, she's really been a consistent, steady force for Duke," Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. "With her size, she gives a lot of matchup problems, and yeah, you hope that you can use your speed and quickness to combat the fact that she's 6-7."

Duke will have its hands full containing Maryland's young trio of Harper, 6-2 sophomore Crystal Langhorne (23 points against UNC) and 6-1 freshman Marissa Coleman (12 points, 14 rebounds). The three combined for 46 points and 29 rebounds in Maryland's upset of Duke last month, which ended a 14-game losing streak against the Blue Devils.

"When we finally beat Duke, the monkey was off our back," Langhorne said. "They constantly beat us. We finally got that win, and I think mentally that fear against Duke is just gone."

Tonight's final is touted as the NCAA's highest-scoring teams going head to head, but it's also the tournament's top rebounding squads. Duke outreboundedMaryland in its two regular-season wins, but the Terrapins had the edge in their third meeting.

"That's always a concern for us," Goestenkors said. "We take great pride in our rebounding, and obviously Maryland's an excellent rebounding team; they lead the nation. They were more aggressive than we were attacking the basket, so we need to just be more aggressive now."