shay doron 298.88.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Shay Doron couldn't have asked for a better birthday present. But she did anyway.
Doron, a junior for the University of Maryland Terrapins who grew up in Tel Aviv, turned 21 years old on Saturday and celebrated with her teammates by upsetting the University of North Carolina Tar Heels 81-70 in the National Collegiate Atheltic Association Division I women's basketball championship national semifinal game on Sunday night in Boston.
Doron appreciates the victory but wants more. "To go home now without winning [the championship] is just not going to be satisfying," Doron said. "We're going to enjoy this tonight, but tomorrow is back to business."
Despite committing 26 turnovers - 12 by freshman point guard Kristi Toliver - the Lady Terps, this year's only Final Four team that wasn't a one-seed, overcame their sloppy play by out-rebounding the Tar Heels 41-31. The Terps, who lead the nation in rebound margin, were 32-1 on the season when they outrebounded their opponent.
The post players led the way for Maryland, with Laura Harper scoring a career-high 24 points, while Crystal Langhorne added 23. Langhorne, the Albuquerque Regional Most Outstanding Player, hit her first seven field goals, finishing 10-for-12 from the field.
Going into halftime, Maryland held a 36-34 lead by establishing a strong inside game. Harper and Longhorne accounted for 26 of those points.
The Tar Heels kept it close through 20 minutes with 10 steals and with a dominant post game of their own. Forward Erlana Larkins scored 14 first-half points to help take the pressure off star guard Ivory Latta, the Cleveland Regional Most Outstanding Player, who hit the ground hard as she fell while reaching for a pass and stayed on the floor in obvious pain with 12:24 to go in the first half. She was carried off the court and limped on her own to the locker room only to return to the game less than two minutes later.
"I wanted her to get back up, because I didn't want to hear any excuses later," Doron said.
Latta finished with 14 points, but shot 1-for-10 on three-pointers.
To open the second half, the Tar Heels did a better job of fronting the post, holding Langhorne scoreless for the first 10 minutes. That's when Harper went to work. Harper shot 4-for-5 from the field and 6-for-7 from the line on her way to 14 second-half points. She also helped free up outside shots for the Lady Terps.
With 8:10 remaining, Toliver hit Maryland's first three-pointer of the game to give her team its biggest lead of the game, 63-52.
The No. 1-ranked Tar Heels, whose only loss of the season until Sunday night also came against Maryland, did not quit and cut the lead to just two, 70-68, with 2:05 to play on a Larkins jumper.
Doron then decided to make sure that Maryland would not let UNC get any closer. The Terps' most experienced starter brought the ball down the court against the Tar Heels' pressure the next three possessions and helped give Maryland a comfortable cushion to put fans in Israel and in College Park at ease.
With 1:58 to play, Doron was fouled on a layup that went halfway through the net before popping out. She would miss her first free throw but hit the second to put the Terps up by three at 71-68.
Following a missed Larkins jump shot, Doron again brought the ball down the court. She penetrated into the paint and pulled up for a short jumper, knocking it down and extending Maryland's lead to five.
North Carolina's Latta cut the lead back to three when she hit two free throws after being fouled by Toliver on a drive down the middle of the lane.
On the next possession, Doron all but put an end to North Carolina's hopes of advancing to the final when she whipped a beautiful pass to Harper off a drive down the left side of the lane as the shot clock wound down. Harper caught the ball on the right block and hit the easy layup to give Maryland a five-point lead with 39 seconds remaining.
"All season long this team has played with a chip on its shoulder," said head coach Brenda Frese. "They keep taking us for a heck of a ride."
The Terrapins will face Duke University for the national championship on Tuesday night.
Duke beat LSU 64-45, holding the nation's leading scorer, Seimone Augustus, to only 14 points on 6-for-18 shooting.
The all-ACC championship will be the teams' fourth meeting of the year. Duke won both regular season games by double digits, but Maryland won the most recent matchup 78-70 in the ACC tournament semifinals.
Neither team has ever won the women's national championship.
On TV: NCAA Division I women's basketball championship final, Maryland vs Duke (live at 3:30 a.m. Wednesday on ESPN).