by Mike Potter
GREENSBORO COLISEUM Anyone who bought book tickets to the ACC Women's Basketball Tournament a few months ago could not have predicted she or he would be watching this.
It's the No. 8 vs. No. 9 game on Thursday afternoon and two of the three recent powers, UNC and Maryland, are playing for a chance to play top-seeded Duke in the same 3 p.m. time slot on Friday.
UNC was favored to win the regular-season championship back before we learned star forward Jessica Breland was going to miss the season battling Hodgkin's disease. And while the Terps were rebuilding, most figured they'd finish in the top half of the league.
But it hasn't worked out that way as they battled their way through a very balanced league, and there's a chance today's loser may not earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
UNC helped its case plenty with its 64-54 win over the Blue Devils on Saturday, but still can't be quite sure. And Maryland might still need a signature victory.
Apparently the Terps get it, taking a big lead and holding on for an 83-77 victory and another shot at the Blue Devils.
Today it's obvious that the Terps, who lost the regular-season meeting at UNC 75-64 on Jan. 17, are just more ready to play.
Maryland comes out of the game looking as if it has been shot out of the proverbial cannon.
The Tar Heels' only lead is 2-0 before the Terps score the next 12 points, taking the 10-point lead on a Dara Taylor jumper. The lead gets as high as 16, at 24-8 on a three-point play from Tianna Hawkins at 12:19, before the Tar Heels' offense wakes up.
Maryland has a 41-31 pad at the break.
The Tar Heels get to within four twice with under six minutes left, but the lead goes back to 10 on a Lynetta Kizer layup at 3:14 and a Jackie Nared free throw at 2:13.
A frantic rally ensues, with the Tar Heels slicing the lead to 79-77 on a layup from Cetera DeGraffenreid (pictured) with 12 seconds left.
But Kim Rodgers hits a pair of free throws with 10 seconds left to make it 81-77, and a layup from Hawkins at the buzzer completes the scoring.
Kizer leads the Terps with 22 points and 10 rebounds, followed by Hawkins with 13 points and 11 boards. Lori Bjork and Taylor add 10 points each.
DeGraffenreid paces UNC with 23 points including 10-for-10 from the line. Chay Shegog adds 16 points and 12 rebounds, She'la White 15 points and Laura Broomfield 14 points and 10 rebounds - all in the second half. Season leading scorer Italee Lucas plays 19 minutes and does not score.
Maryland shoots 43.3 percent from the floor to UNC's 36.8 and ekes out a 49-48 win on the boards. UNC commits 11 turnovers to Maryland's 13.
They said it:
UNC coach Sylvia Hatchell: "I was wondering when they were going to miss a shot. I think they made 10 of the first 14, and then they finally pulled off a little bit. ... They're a really good team. They're young like us, and I think the fact that this game is an 8-9 game in our confidence just shows you how the conference sits, the fact that this was our 8-9 game. Our RPI is 29, and I look back and in the history of the ACC a team that had an RPI even in the 30s has always made the NCAA Tournament. And our strength of schedule is 22. ... So the RPI is good, the schedule was good and we have got some real good quality wins. We hope that will help us get in."
Maryland coach Brenda Frese: "I thought our young guns grew up today. I was impressed with the poise and the confidence we played with. I think we were inspired today after watching our men's team (beat Duke) yesterday. So we just had a passionate energy in terms of what we wanted to do against UNC and I think the biggest thing is that we finished it."
DeGraffenreid: "We just have to try to get the team back that played against Duke. And we have to be better at rebounding, definitely rebounding. They outrebounded us by one, and that might have won the game. One rebound can put us up at any time. Definitely rebounding."
Kizer: "The Duke game is real big for us. They beat us at home and they beat us at their place, and it's hard to beat a team three times. I know the coaches will have us prepared."
What does it all mean?
That the Terps may have earned themselves a spot in the NCAA Tournament. And UNC now has to sweat out the Selection Committee's decision.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Bjork's 3-pointer from the right elbow to make it 61-50 with 9:44 to play.
UNC leads 36-32.
UNC: Lost 1.
Maryland: Won 1.
Maryland vs. Duke, Friday, 3 p.m.
UNC vs. N.C. Central, March 14, 3 p.m.