Through the years, lots of words have been tossed around to describe attendance at University of Maryland women's basketball games and most of them haven't been good.
For instance, 786 people turned out to see their match with Wake Forest on Jan. 11. Just over 1,000 people piled in for the Rutgers game the week before, and a cozy 353 watched the Maryland-Coppin State game in early December.
But tonight (7:30, HTS), when the top-ranked Terps (20-1, 10-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) play host to No. 2 Virginia (20-1, 10-1), there may be a word never before heard around these parts to describe a Maryland women's basketball crowd.
With more than 9,000 tickets sold as of late yesterday, and with anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 students and faculty members expected, it is possible that Cole Field House will reach its 14,500-seat capacity.
That would more than quadruple the previous all-time attendance of 3,314 for a Maryland women's game and set an ACC women's record, surpassing the 11,520 last season who saw then top-ranked Virginia and No. 2 North Carolina State play a 124-120 triple-overtime classic in Raleigh, won by the Cavaliers.
Maryland coach Chris Weller has been waiting for something like this to happen, and she said she's always felt that, eventually, folks would come.
"I said it was going to happen," said Weller. "I didn't know when, but I knew it would happen."
"This is just super, especially for that area which hasn't shown a lot of interest in women's basketball," said Virginia coach Debbie Ryan. "That's a huge step forward."
Within the past month, Weller and her players have had to deal with the raised expectations of being No. 1 for the first time in the program's 17-year history.
Now, they'll have to cope with a huge crowd, the largest to see a Terps women's team since 12,874 crowded the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas in March 1989 to see Maryland defeat Texas, 79-71, to advance to the Final Four.
Weller says they're up to the task.
"I think they're real excited about this," said Weller. "When we first got to No. 1, it was hard not to focus around it, but they have done a real good job of keeping things in perspective."
Both Ryan and Weller are trying to downplay the significance of tonight's game, rationalizing that there are still league games and the conference tournament to be played before the NCAA tournament rolls around in March.
"We're not buying the hype," said Ryan. "It doesn't mean anything."
"We hadn't really focused on Virginia until [yesterday]," Weller // said. "We're approaching this like any other game. We took the day off Sunday and we just did some things [yesterday]."
Still, if the intensity level tonight matches the Jan. 15 meeting in Charlottesville, where the Terps, then ranked third, beat the Cavaliers, 67-65, and took their No. 1 ranking, then the hype will be justified.
Maryland broke out early in both halves, taking a 10-point lead in each, before the Cavaliers stormed back to close the gap, nearly forcing an overtime on a last-second Dawn Staley shot that bounced off the front of the rim.
In both halves, Maryland sophomore guard Limor Mizrachi took control, scoring 16 points overall and hitting big shots to choke off the Virginia comeback.
"We need to do a better job of covering Mizrachi," said Ryan. "She really hurt us."
Perimeter shooting also did in Virginia. Its vaunted senior backcourt of Staley and Tammi Reiss shot a combined 7-for-32, giving little support to junior center Heather Burge, who had 29 points.
The Cavaliers have returned to form since the loss, winning seven in a row. Staley, last season's national Player of the Year, has bounced back too, earning ACC Player of the Week honors last week, averaging 16.5 points, six rebounds and six assists in wins over Wake Forest and Georgia Tech.
"I hope Dawn plays at the level that we saw her in the second half against Georgia Tech," said Ryan. "Dawn really took over and she's certainly capable of that."
Meanwhile, the Terps are on their own roll, winning 11 straight since losing to Auburn, 69-60, in the finals of the Hilton Head Super Shootout in late December.
A Maryland win would virtually nail down the ACC regular-season championship and a top seed in the ACC tournament as well as just about clinch one of four top seeds in the NCAA tournament next month.
But Weller will have none of that kind of talk.
"For the last week, it's been Florida State and North Carolina and now we can focus on Virginia. Next week, it will be Clemson," said Weller. "It's our next game, so it's the biggest. I say that all the time to the team and they kind of smile now and say, 'Yeah, we know.' "
Apprximately 1,000 to 1,500 tickets remain for tonight's women's basketball game between No. 1-ranked Maryland and No. 2 Virginia at Cole Field House in College Park. Prices are $5 for adults, $2 for youths 18 and under and senior citizens 60 and older. The Maryland ticket office will open at 8:30 a.m. and will take orders at (800) 462-8377.