Paying the price for its late-season slump, the Maryland women's basketball team got a potential land mine placed before it in the NCAA tournament draw.
When the brackets were announced yesterday for the 48-team tournament by the Division I women's basketball committee, the Terps, ranked eighth in The Associated Press poll, received a No. 2 seed in the Mideast Region.
That is the good news.
The bad news is that if Maryland (23-5) is to reach the Final Four in Los Angeles on April 4-5, it likely would have to beat Purdue on the Boilermakers' home court in next weekend's regional semifinals, then defending national champion Tennessee for the Mideast title.
"I don't know that any draw in the NCAA tournament is an easy one, but we're just going to concentrate on us," said Maryland coach Chris Weller. "I think they're looking forward to postseason play."
Maryland, as one of the top 16 seeds in the tournament, received a first-round bye and will be host to the winner of Wednesday's Providence-Toledo game in a second-round match Saturday night at Cole Field House.
Maryland, making its fifth straight NCAA tournament appearance and its ninth in the past 11 years, never has played Toledo (25-5), the Mid-American Conference tournament winner, and the Terps dropped a 77-75, second-round tournament game to Providence two years ago.
The Terps, who spent four weeks at No. 1, probably were in prime contention for one of the four No. 1 seeds as recently as two weeks ago.
"All year long, we were striving for one of the eight national seeds, and we met a season goal," Weller said. "That's an important thing to attain."
But considering that Maryland dropped four of its past seven games, including a 68-67, upset loss to Georgia Tech in the ACC tournament quarterfinals, the No. 2 seeding appears to have been a gift from the committee.
"Some of the best things have happened this year, along with some other things," said Weller. "They've run the gamut of experiences. That should only serve to help them."
Virginia, the No. 1 team in the nation, drew the top seed in the East, and would not have to leave its home court before the Final Four, because its second-round game and the East Regional will played at University Hall in Charlottesville.
The Cavaliers won't have it easy, though. Their regional semifinal opponent, if the seeds hold up, would be West Virginia, the Atlantic 10 regular-season champion, led by Rosemary Kosiorek (Mercy), the league's Player of the Year.
Iowa and Stanford received No. 1 seeds in the Midwest and West, respectively. Five teams from the Pac-10 were invited, and four teams each from the ACC and Southeastern Conference, the traditional powers in women's basketball, were named.