ACC Tournament Wrap: A Game for the Ages
Marissa Coleman celebrates Marylands win over Duke
Marissa Coleman celebrates Marylands win over Duke
Posted Mar 11, 2009

Full Court's Rob Clough recaps the ACC Women's Tournament action, including the highlights of opening, quarterfinals, and semifinals action and an analysis of the championship shootout that should become an instant classic.

The Atlantic Coast Conference Women's Tournament has to be one of the best-attended and best run conference tournaments in the country. Its increased popularity can be tied directly to efforts that Greensboro, the host city, has made in embracing this event, as well as promotional efforts by the league office.

All of these efforts, in one way or other, have the stamp of Kay Yow on them. A tireless organizer and promoter of the game, this tournament was a celebration of her life and impact on the game. Without Yow, ACC basketball as we know it would not exist.

Thanks to Yow's efforts, and the efforts of many that she inspired, the tournament once again topped the total attendance record it set last year--and this was without University of North Carolina in the finals. While the most fitting tribute to Yow would have been a long run by her North Carolina State Wolfpack, it was nice to see her sister, Maryland Athletic Director Debbie Yow, celebrating her Terps' first ACC title in 20 years.

The overall quality of play in the tournament was excellent, with an epic final, a shoot-out in one semifinal, and a near-upset in the quarterfinals. Let's go day by day for the highlights.

Opening Round

Clemson, 81 (W), v. Georgia Tech, 69

The stunner of opening day was 12th-seeded Clemson demolishing fifth seed, Georgia Tech. The Jackets were expected to give North Carolina a tough game in the upper rounds, but the Tigers, who had underachieved during the regular season, pounded Georgia Tech inside.

Frosh Shaniqua Pauldo looked like a polished veteran as she abused Georgia Tech's tiny frontline. The oddity here is that Pauldo barely played this season.

Wake Forest, 59 (W), v. North Carolina State, 54

There was also a Day One mini-upset when ninth-seeded Wake Forest defeated Number Eight North Carolina State in a close game. The Wolfpack women had swept Wake in the regular season and those losses will be huge contributing factors when the Deacs are kept out of the NCAA tournament.

The difference here was the return of center Corrine Groves, who sat out those two games with an illness.

Boston College, 76 (W), v. Miami, 59

Number-Seven seed Boston College dispatched former fellow Big East squad Miami with little difficulty.

Virginia, 66 (W), v. Virginia Tech, 57

Sixth-seed Virginia had trouble putting away Number 11 Virginia Tech. The lateness of the latter game, combined with how much energy UVa had to expend, would become factors the next night.


The two games that should have been nip-and-tuck were walkovers. The two games that should have been blowouts were a bit more interesting than that.

Florida State, 83 (W), v. Boston College, 71

Florida State, who tied for first place with Maryland in the regular season, had no trouble dispatching Boston College. FSU simply had too much balance and BC had too little quickness on the perimeter to post a threat.

Duke, 76 (W), v. Virginia, 53

The Duke-Virginia game, a match-up between two nationally ranked teams, was the most hotly anticipated contest of the day. The Hoos, perhaps a bit fatigued from their opening day exertions, were knocked out of the game by a huge Duke run early on, as the Devils forced turnover after turnover.

North Carolina, 74 (W), v. Clemson, 55

On the opposite side of the bracket, scrappy Clemson gave North Carolina fits for a half but eventually succumbed to UNC's overwhelming advantage on the boards (59-23). The Tigers simply didn't have enough gas to take on two of the ACC's most physical teams on two days in a row.

Maryland, 72 (W), v. Wake Forest, 70

What was expected to be the biggest rout was nearly the biggest stunner, as Wake Forest took Maryland down to the wire. Indeed, behind Groves and speedy frosh point guard Brooke Thomas, the Deacs sprinted out to a 12-point lead with nine minutes left. Then they hit the wall against the Terps, who never vary their approach no matter what the score.

They are not an athletic team, nor do they pressure the ball, nor are they very physical. What they do, and have done throughout Brenda Frese's tenure, is hit jump shots, get to the foul line and take care of rebounds. None of their players has any fear whatsoever of putting up a shot. It took them five minutes to reclaim the lead in this game, but Wake simply couldn't keep up the scoring pace.

ACC Semifinals

Maryland, 95 (W), v. North Carolina, 84

If you hate defense and love prolific offenses, then the first ACC tournament semifinal was the game for you. This was an old-fashioned gunslingers' duel, as Maryland's Marissa Coleman and Kristi Toliver combined for 30 shots and 26 free-throw attempts, while North Carolina's Jessica Breland, Italee Lucas and Rashanda McCants combined for 53 shots and 11 free-throw attempts. Maryland also got timely contributions from its bench, especially guard Kim Rodgers, whose personal 6-0 run gave Maryland some breathing room at the half.

This game featured a dizzying number of runs: Maryland went up by as many as 13 points, then UNC would counter and go up by as many as five. In the end, Maryland's ability to attack the basket, versus, UNC's settling for nothing but jump shots, gave the Terps the upper hand.

Duke, 75 (W), v. Florida State, 57

Florida State had upset Duke earlier this year in regular season play after Duke blew a big lead. This time, Duke didn't take any chances and quickly built a double-digit lead that only dipped below 10 briefly.

FSU's center and defensive rock Jacinta Monroe picked up two fouls in the first half, and the Seminoles quickly fell apart. Duke used a balanced attack and feasted on Florida State's turnovers, but also notably sizzled from long range (7 of 12 from three), a rarity this season for the Blue Devils.

The ACC Championship Finals: Maryland, 92-OT (W), v. Duke, 89

Given the recent history between these two programs, the final was eagerly anticipated, and it did not disappoint. The game featured 11 ties and 10 lead changes, as Duke would dig down to generate turnovers and attack the basket, while Maryland would respond with clutch shooting.

The first half featured some intense small ball as the starting centers for both teams picked up two fouls and sat. Every time it seemed like one team was getting the upper hand, the other time would unleash an incredible series of plays to get even. In just one of those incredible series, Bridgette Mitchell scored eight points in two minutes to bring Duke back from a seven-point deficit.

Duke took a lead in the second half behind Carrem Gay, but the Terps stormed back when Marah Strickland drained three straight long balls.

Duke started to struggle when they attempted to jam the ball inside and Chante Black missed some easy shots. The Terps seized the momentum, with Maryland twice taking ten-point leads, but each time Duke clawed their way back.

The Terps had established a six-point lead by the last two minutes, but Duke patiently waited for good looks and let the Terps run the shot clock down.

After Anjale Barrett missed a three with 10 seconds left, the Devils rushed the ball up the floor. Jasmine Thomas missed the shot, but Chante Black went up, impossibly, to tip it in, and this remarkable final went to overtime.

It was the first overtime in a tournament final since the legendary triple-overtime epic between Maryland and Virginia in 1993.

Maryland's Demauria Liles is upended by Duke's Joy Cheek in the heart fought game.
Maryland's Demauria Liles, left, is upended by Duke's Joy Cheek, right, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Atlantic Coast Conference women's tournament in Greensboro, N.C., Sunday, March 8, 2009. The hard-fought final was one for the ages.

The overtime had its own share of chills and thrills, as Duke took three separate leads but was matched each time by Maryland. At one point, Duke had a two-point lead and the ball, and Abby Waner had a wide-open shot. She took it and missed, and Coleman was fouled going for the rebound. Coleman hit both charity shots, and that seemed to propel the Terps from then on out. Maryland took a three-point lead with a minute left, and Duke's Joy Cheek airballed a trey.

Duke had one last chance to tie the game with a three, but the Terps flooded the perimeter and forced a tough shot by Waner, then held on for the win.

Once again, one can look at this Terp team and pick out any number of flaws, but they win because of their mental toughness and confidence in their ability to score in bunches for 40 minutes.

ACC Tournament Awards

As I predicted, Coleman was named the MVP of the tournament. Toliver, Gay, Waner and Breland joined her on the All-Tournament first team.

Boston College's Carolyn Swords; Florida State's Mara Freshour and Tanae Davis-Cain; and North Carolina's Italee Lucas and Rashanda McCants made the second team.

I might have substituted Corrine Groves for either Freshour or McCants, but otherwise I thought the right players were chosen for the honors teams.

NCAA Seeding

As far as the NCAA seeding implications of the tournament, there's no question that Maryland wrapped up a Number One seed. There's been some talk that Duke might have done enough to also earn a Number One seed, but that seems less likely, despite having beaten two nationally ranked teams during the weekend. At a minimum, the Devils did sew up a Number Two seed.

The bigger question is where they'll be placed. It's unlikely that they'd be Maryland's second seed, and the thinking goes that they'd be too tough a second seed for UConn. That means heading west, either as Oklahoma's Number Two in Oklahoma City or Stanford's Number Two in Berkeley.

North Carolina will be a high three-seed and might also be shipped west. Virginia will probably be either a low five or a high six-seed.

Georgia Tech's flop will mostly likely relegate them to a ten-seed, while Boston College will be the last ACC team as an eleven-seed.

There was some talk around the tournament that Wake's showing might be enough to get them in, especially taking Groves' absence into consideration. But Wake simply doesn't have enough good wins on its resume to make it, even with Groves playing. They'll be a top-seeded WNIT team.

The ACC's quickness and physical nature should ensure at least five teams making the Sweet Sixteen, and five teams have at least a shot at going to the Final Four.

Related Stories
Tournament Time: Previewing the ACC
 -by  Mar 4, 2009
Notes from the Road
 -by  Feb 23, 2009
NCAA Round 2: Maryland Beats Utah to Advance
 -by  Mar 26, 2009

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