DURHAM, N.C. -- The Duke-Maryland slugfest in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday was entertaining in the sense that these two teams bring out physical and highly competative play in each other -- and thanks to lenient officiating, it was hand-to-hand combat for much of the game.
Players crashed into each other with no calls. Alyssa Thomas of Maryland threw Duke's Chloe Wells to the floor on one missed shot. Duke's Chelsea Gray maneuvered Thomas into crashing into Maryland's bench, sparking a hail of expletives from Terp coach Brenda Frese that got her ejected from the game with two quick technical fouls. All in all, it was a matchup typical of the great Duke-Maryland showdowns of the last decade, a series that will sadly end with the Terps' departure to the Big Ten. Here are a few game notes and a few reflections on the rivalry over the years:
Why Duke won: The Devils were only -2 on the boards against the leading rebounding team in the country. They neutralized the ACC's leading scorer in Tianna Hawkins, holding her to just six points, and more important, the Devils held a 28-14 edge in points in the paint, the area that Maryland usually dominates. Duke's interior defense neutralized Maryland, and Elizabeth Williams got stronger as the game went on at both ends. And let's not forget Gray, who took over the game in the second half, scoring 17 of her 28 points in the last 8:35.
Why Maryland lost: Hawkins and Thomas combined for just seven of 30 shooting from the floor. Guard Katie Rutan had 11 points in the first half to keep the Terps in the game, but was just one of eight in the second as Duke clamped down. Maryland also turned the ball over 24 times, including nine by frosh guard Chloe Pavlech.
The game turned when...: Gray hit a pull-up three after Maryland took a brief lead in the second half. That sparked a 13-2 run that put Duke in control, furthered bolstered by an 8-0 run the included Frese's technical fouls.
X-factor: Allison Vernerey. Relegated mostly to the bench these days, she teamed with Williams to stuff Maryland inside, grabbed some tough rebounds and hit a key hook shot in the second half. She gave Duke precisely the kind of lift that Maryland needed from its bench but simply didn't have available because of their injury problems.
Ramifications: Duke ran its record to 12-0 in the ACC, but still have to play Maryland and UNC again, plus Miami and FSU. Still, with the Terps falling to 10-2 in the league, the Devils have a full two-game lead over their nearest competitors. The win over a top ten team will also boost Duke's RPI and strengthen the case for a potential No. 1 seed. For the Terps, they will continue to soldier on and hope that frosh Tierney Pfiirman returns soon to bolster their reserves. They have a relatively light ACC schedule down the stretch and still have a chance to win the regular season should Duke falter, if they can beat them in the rematch at the Comcast Center.
Reflections on the series: Maryland used to dominate Duke in the 1980s, back when Duke was struggling to develop its program and the Terps' Chris Weller ruled the ACC. When Duke hired Gail Goestenkors in the early '90s, Weller started to struggle and Duke started beating Maryland regularly until Brenda Frese left Minnesota to take over the Terps. Her early teams battled hard, but they didn't break through to beat the Devils until the 2006 ACC tournament. With stars like Crystal Langhorne, Laura Harper, Kristi Toliver, Marissa Coleman and Shay Doron, the Terps loaded up with WNBA-level talent and rode their momentum to one of the greatest NCAA championship games of all time against the Devils. That Duke team was loaded, with Monique Currie, Lindsey Harding, Abby Waner, Mistie Bass Williams, Chante Black, Allison Bales and Jess Foley, and of course the Terps famously sent the game into overtime with a late-game three by Toliver over Bales and then eked out a win. The next season, Harding twice shot down the defending champs, boosting Duke to a pair of easy wins. When Goestenkors left and Joanne P. McCallie took over, Maryland was in control, sweeping the regular-season series for the first time since the early '90s. Ironically, Frese did not coach her team to victory in Cameron since she was delivering twin boys on that day. Indeed, she's 0-10 in Cameron for her career, and the Terps may well not come back next season due to changes in ACC scheduling. Duke slipped by the Terps in the ACC tournament in a big upset, preventing Maryland from winning the tournament title.
In 2009, Duke beat the Terps in Cameron, surviving a late three attempt that was just wide by Toliver, who said after the game, "I guess I'll just have to wait another day to break the Blue Devils' hearts." That day came in the return game in the Comcast Center, when Maryland blew Duke off their court. The teams squared off in an epic ACC tournament final as Chante Black tipped in a shot to send it into overtime, only to see Marissa Coleman hit big shots down the stretch to win the title for the first time in 20 years for Maryland. A depleted Maryland squad struggled in 2010, losing three times to Duke, though each game was the sort of physical, nasty struggle that we saw in Monday's contest. 2011 and 2012 saw the teams split games, each winning at home -- and each game featuring high levels of athleticism and lots more brutal physical play. The feeling I always got watching the teams play was that the rivalry was never personal; Duke and Maryland were simply in each other's way as both tried to achieve greatness.
It's a shame that a series that always produced big crowds, great drama and a national stage for stars to shine is going to end.
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