COLLEGE PARK -- In the overall scheme of things, the 75-74 win that the second-ranked Virginia women's basketball team managed over No. 1 Maryland last night will mean little.
Both teams are likely to meet each other again in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game and both are expected to go far in the NCAA tournament.
But because of the 14,500 people who jammed into the sauna that was Cole Field House and the drama they saw unfold, the ultimate meaning of last night's game for Maryland may be acceptance.
Never before had a Maryland crowd turned out in anything resembling those numbers to see a women's game. The game more than lived up to their expectations.
"It's important for them to see quality basketball," said Maryland coach Chris Weller. "I hope they feel they did."
The crowd, the fourth-largest regular-season audience in women's history and the biggest in ACC women's history, certainly got a quality game, seeing the home team having a chance to win the game on a last-second shot.
And after center Jessie Hicks' hurried five-footer on the right baseline failed, missing the basket entirely, the crowd stayed just long enough to give its team a final noisy salute.
"I'd like to thank this crowd immensely," Weller told the standing-room-only throng just after the game. "This is the most exciting experience our team has ever had."
Walbrook High's Dafne Lee felt it, too, particularly when she and the team emerged from the tunnel leading onto the court to an opening roar.
"It felt great," said Lee, a senior forward, who scored a team-high 23 and had 12 rebounds. "It felt so good to see all those people. I really didn't think it would be a standing-room sellout until I walked out of that tunnel."
Maryland (20-2, 10-1 in the ACC) battled gamely, trailing through most of the second half, after leading early, as the Cavaliers (21-1, 10-1) took away most of their inside and outside game.
Last month in Charlottesville, where the Terps beat Virginia, 67-65, to claim the No. 1 ranking, Hicks and guard Limor Mizrachi combined for 29 points, hurting the Cavaliers in the post and on the perimeter.
Last night, Virginia shut both down, limiting Hicks to eight points and Mizrachi to 11, on 4-for-11 shooting.
"We tried to take the two of them out of it, and I think we did all right,"said Virginia coach Debbie Ryan.
But Virginia couldn't contain Lee, whose 23 points were a season high. During a six-minute stretch late in the second half, Lee scored all of Maryland's 15 points to keep the Terps in the game.
"Dafne Lee came to play. She hurt us quite a bit," Ryan said.
"I think Dafne shows, game in and game out, how much she loves the program," Weller said. "She's playing with a lot of emotion."
But Virginia had a couple of trump cards of its own. Junior center Heather Burge had 24 points and 17 rebounds, similar to the 29 points and seven boards she had in Charlottesville.
And it didn't hurt that senior guard Dawn Staley, last year's national Player of the Year, returned to form, scoring 19 points and dishing out nine assists.
"She's a great player, and she showed that tonight," Ryan said.
Staley, who shot 5-for-20 in the first game, missing a shot that would have forced overtime, said she didn't feel redeemed for the first game.
"I just wanted to do the best I could," Staley said. "I couldn't worry about the first game. I just had to do my best tonight."
And it worked, though the Terps nearly pulled out the win. Staley missed the front end of a one-and-one with 11.1 seconds left, and Burge missed a follow shot.
Maryland got the rebound, and called timeout with 2.1 seconds left. Lee inbounded on the left sideline, hoping to find Hicks down low.
She did, though Hicks bobbled the cross-court inbounds pass. When she gathered it in, her shot fell short of the front rim.
"That was the play we wanted," Weller said. "Actually, she [Hicks] left her seal [holding off her defender] early. If she waited just a half a second, she gets an easy basket. But that's the way it goes."
Lee said: "I got the pass off, but the shot didn't fall. But you can't look at that one point in the game because we made a lot of mistakes."
VIRGINIA (21-1, 10-1) -- Staley 6-16 6-10 19, Hei. Burge 2-4 2-2 6, Hea. Burge 10-21 4-6 24, Evans 1-3 0-0 3, Reiss 6-15 2-2 15, Wagener 2-5 0-0 4, Beale 0-1 0-0 0, Smith 2-2 0-1 4. Totals 29-67 14-21 75.
MARYLAND (20-2, 10-1) -- Andrew 2-4 0-0 4, Lee 7-13 9-10 23, Hicks 3-8 2-2 8, Mizrachi 4-11 2-2 11, Boles 7-10 6-11 20, Rimkus 0-0 0-0 0, Colleton 4-5 0-0 8, Christy 0-3 0-0 0, Admas 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-54 19-25 74.
Halftime--Virginia 42, Maryland 40. 3-point goals--Virginia 3-10 (Staley 1-3, Evans 1-3, Reiss 1-4), Maryland 1-2 (Mizrachi 1-2). Rebounds--Virginia 36 (Hea. Burge 17), Maryland 40 (Lee 12). Assists--Virginia 18 (Staley 9), Maryland 18 (Mizrachi 5). Total fouls--Virginia 18, Maryland 19. Fouled out--Hei. Burge. A--14,500.