COLLEGE PARK -- It seems that the Maryland women's basketball team is settling into its No. 1 ranking about the way you would settle into a pair of shoes.
After an initial breaking-in period, the fit becomes comfortable and you never want to get rid of them.
Last night, for instance, the Terps broke in Georgia Tech early, staking a big early lead, settled into comfort, then charged at the end to beat the Yellow Jackets, 75-54, before 2,110 at Cole Field House.
Combined with Friday's 80-54 drubbing of Duke, Maryland coach Chris Weller considers her team improved.
"The last two games, I feel like we've gotten better defensively," said Weller. "Offensively, we've cleaned up. No. 1 is not in our control, but our efforts are under our control."
For about 20 minutes, Maryland exhibited the kind of relentless defensive intensity that had pushed the Terps steadily up the national rankings.
Luckily for the Terps, overmatched Georgia Tech was not in a serious position to contend, though the scrappy Yellow Jackets, who lost to No. 2 Virginia on Saturday, 79-74, in Charlottesville, played hard down to the wire.
"If you look at their athletes and at Georgia Tech's athletes, there's just no comparison," said coach Agnus Berenato. "We came in here thinking that we could play and beat Maryland. We don't believe in moral victories."
The Yellow Jackets were nearly run off the court to start, as the Terps, off intense pressure and resulting transition baskets, jumped to a 17-6 lead with five minutes gone, then went on a 15-9 run to lead by 32-15 12 minutes into the contest.
"We came out in the first 10 minutes and we played as well as we have all year," said Weller.
For the first time in about two weeks, Maryland's inside game didn't face a packed-in zone. Junior center Jessie Hicks responded with 21 points and sophomore forward Michele Andrew added 17.
"We just tried to get to the open holes," said Hicks. "They were playing defense, but we went to the holes."
But the Yellow Jackets wouldn't go away, and were within 42-31 at the half, thanks in large part to perimeter shooting from junior guards Devony Caldwell and Selena Baldwin, who combined for 17 of Tech's 31 points.
Georgia Tech continued to stay with the more talented Terps, and despite a five-minute drought where neither team scored from the field, the Yellow Jackets got to within 53-46 with 7:10 left on a basket by junior center Lara Kauffman.
But then the crowd began to get behind the Terps.
For a program that, until this magical season, has never had five consecutive crowds of more than 1,000, the noise was welcome.
"It felt good to have that crowd make that response," said Weller. "I think it did give the team a lift."
The Terps forced turnovers on three straight possessions and converted on all for fast-break baskets, putting the game out of reach.
"We felt we were in great shape right up until the last four minutes," said Berenato. "It was all in that four-minute stretch. That's our whole game plan, not to allow them into a transition game. Then, we had a mental breakdown."
GEORGIA TECH (11-8, 3-6) -- Weiss 1-3 0-0 2, Pierce 5-10 2-2 12, Kauffman 3-8 0-0 6, Lounsbury 1-8 0-0 2, Baldwin 3-8 2-2 8, Davis 1-1 1-1 3, Caldwell 5-15 2-2 13, Echols 1-6 0-0 2, Keener 3-6 0-0 6, Finney 0-1 0-0 0, Harrison 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-66 7-7 54.
MARYLAND (17-1, 7-0) -- Andrew 7-14 3-4 17, Lee 4-9 1-2 9, Hicks 9-15 3-6 21, Mizrachi 0-5 4-4 4, Boles 3-7 1-2 7, Colleton 2-7 0-0 4, Christy 2-4 3-5 7, Rimkus 3-5 0-0 6, Panek 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 30-66 15-23 75.
Halftime--Maryland 42, Georgia Tech 31. 3-point goals--Georgia Tech 1-7 (Caldwell 1-2, Baldwin 0-3, Finney 0-1, Lounsbury 0-1), Maryland 0-0. Fouled out--None. Rebounds--Georgia Tech 43 (Pierce 13), Maryland 41 (Andrew 10). Assists--Georgia Tech 5 (Weiss, Kauffman, Lounsbury, Baldwin, Echols 1), Maryland 19 (Mizrachi 7). Total fouls--Georgia Tech 19, Maryland 11. A--2,110.