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 the 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 nationally top-ranked Terps (20-1, 10-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) play host to No. 2 Virginia (20-1, 10-1), there is likely to be be a word never before heard to describe a Maryland women's basketball crowd: Capacity.
Ticket officials said today that 10,000 tickets had been sold and the remaining 4,500 at Cole Field House were being held for student walk-up.
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. The Cavaliers won.
Maryland coach Chris Weller has been waiting for something like this to happen, and she said she has 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."
Virginia coach Debbie Ryan is glad it did. "This is just super, especially for that area which hasn't shown a lot of interest in women's basketball," Ryan said. "That's a huge step forward."
Within the last 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 March 1989 to see Maryland defeat Texas, 79-71, to advance to the Final Four.
Weller says her girls are 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."
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.
Bad 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. She averaged 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. It also would just about clinch one of four top seeds in the NCAA tournament next month.