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The king is dead

Ole Miss' stifling D sends Terps reeling out of tourney

Posted: Tuesday March 20, 2007 10:54PM; Updated: Wednesday March 21, 2007 2:07AM
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Armintie Price hit her first six shots and finished with 28 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals.
Armintie Price hit her first six shots and finished with 28 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals.
Kelly Kline/WireImage.com

HARTFORD, Connecticut -- On the jumbo screen high above a sparsely-populated Hartford Civic Center, they showed highlights at halftime of better times for Maryland. As the film of last year's national championship rolled to a close, the crowd watched Duke's Jessica Foley miss a desperation 3-pointer from long-range in overtime. It marked the beginning of the party in College Park. The end came hard Tuesday night in Hartford.

There'll be no more talk of dynasty coming from the Terps. The king is dead, an 89-78 loss that looked better only in the final box score. Maryland joins Purdue (1999 champion) and Notre Dame (2001) as defending champions to exit in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

For that you can credit the swarming defensive pressure of Mississippi and the wondrous play of senior guard Armintie Price, who will make a WNBA team very happy after she's selected in the first round this month. An athletic 5-foot-9 guard with "ridiculous athletic ability" according to coach Carol Ross, Price hit her first six shots and finished with 28 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals. She hit 9-of-12 from the field and was 10-for-12 from the line. Don't worry if you haven't heard of her. You will soon enough. She needs three steals to join Cheryl Miller as the only two NCAA women's players with 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds, 400 assists and 400 steals.

Maryland defeated Mississippi 110-79 in November at the Junkanoo Jam tournament title game in the Bahamas ("Our feet were in the sand and now they're in the snow," said Ross) but they faced a different team in Hartford. "This time we were playing for bigger things," Price said.

That was clear from the start. The Rebels trapped the Terps all over the court, deflecting balls, and disrupting Maryland's offense. Rarely are the Terps overmatched athletically but Price (the SEC's Defensive Player of the Year), senior guard Ashley Awkward and freshman Alliesha Easly were too quick for Maryland's guards. Mississippi had seven steals in the first 8:38 of the first half and 10 in the first half. They finished the game with 15.

Only Kristi Tolliver's shooting kept Maryland in the game but the sophomore guard couldn't handle the defensive heat of Easley in the first half. Tolliver had seven turnovers in the first 20 minutes, and her team had 20 (yes, that's right) in the opening period. Maryland turned the ball over 29 times in the game. "They punished us in the first half and each and every one of you saw it," said Maryland coach Brenda Frese.

At the end there was a nice moment between Price and Awkward, a pair of seniors who finally will get the recognition they deserve. They embraced on the Civic Center floor for a minute after the final buzzer ended. "This team has exceeded expectations of others since the day they put their uniforms on," said Ross. "We were picked when Awkward, [Jada] Mincy and Price were freshman to finish 12th in our league. There are only 12 teams in our league. We ended up in the NCAA tournament. They have made a career out of believing in themselves and making people who predict games look really bad."

This is new ground for Mississippi. It is their first Sweet 16 appearance since 1992, and they now face Oklahoma on March 25 in Dayton. Our advice to the Sooners is simple: Protect the basketball or the Price will be painful.