Lady Terps hear farewell a bit early

March 30, 1992|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- In the next few days, Maryland women's basketball coach Chris Weller will address her team for the final time this season.

After all that has happened to the Terps, whose season ended Saturday in the NCAA Mideast Regional final, Weller isn't sure what she will say.

"Somehow, the Lord will have the words come out," said Weller after the 75-70 loss to Western Kentucky at Mackey Arena.

Whatever the words are, the speech wasn't expected by many for at least another week, after the Terps got back from this weekend's Final Four in Los Angeles.

That goal seemed, at points during the season, so close, especially after Maryland (25-6) dismantled a veteran Penn State team in State College, Pa., in December.

And when the Terps beat No. 1 Virginia, 67-65, in Charlottesville in January, the national championship seemed within reach.

But that game and the four-week stay atop the national rankings that followed appear to have been Maryland's undoing.

Virginia coach Debbie Ryan, whose team will make its third straight Final Four appearance, wondered after the game how the No. 1 ranking would affect Maryland emotionally, and that now seems prophetic.

From then on, the Terps not only gained unaccustomed attention but also unaccustomed expectations.

Suddenly, for a successful but previously overlooked program, there were television cameras, notebooks and people in the stands, and Maryland never seemed to deal with them well.

It came to a head during the second week of February, when the top-ranked Terps played host to No. 2 Virginia and traveled to 18th-ranked Clemson.

Playing before more than 14,500 fans, Maryland dropped a heartbreaking, 75-74 game and the top ranking to Virginia.

And, at Clemson, the listless Terps were blown out for the only time all season, 72-55.

Freed from the burden of the top ranking, Maryland continued to sleepwalk through most of the rest of its games, using its athleticism to build big early leads, then watching them evaporate.

The Terps' loss to Western Kentucky was a microcosm of their season. They broke out to a 30-19 lead in the first 10 minutes, shooting 71 percent and looking as good as they had all season.

Then, when All-ACC center Jessie Hicks picked up her second foul and was sent to the bench for the rest of the half, the Terps went flat and were unable to regain their momentum.

There were reasons for the collapse. For one, Maryland missed 10 free throws, hitting only 58 percent in the regional against Purdue and Western Kentucky.

In addition, Maryland was out-rebounded in two of its three tournament games and beaten on the offensive boards in all three.

Finally, the Terps, who saw sagging zone defenses against Hicks all year, didn't try to beat those defenses with outside shooting.

They took 18 of their 54 shots from outside the lane and six from three-point range.

The Terps, whose regular eight-player rotation will remain intact next season except for senior Dafne Lee (Walbrook), may need to develop additional three-point shooters besides sophomore Limor Mizrachi.

As a team, the Terps took 116 three-point shots all season, fewer than 12 of the top 20 individual three-point shooters in women's basketball.

There are hopeful signs for next season, however. Hicks and Malissa Boles, both of whom will be seniors, are likely All-America candidates, and the team should begin the season ranked in the top five.

The Terps were beaten in a regional final by Auburn in 1988, and they went to the Final Four the next season with senior All-Americans Vicky Bullett and Deanna Tate.

It could happen next season.

But it could have happened this season.

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