No. 12 Terps women, No. 11 Virginia play for ACC title tonight

February 23, 1993|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

Usually, Maryland women's basketball coach Chris Weller does her best to play down the importance of any single regular-season game on the schedule.

But not even Weller can shrug off tonight's Maryland-Virginia game, to be played before an expected capacity crowd of more than 8,800 in Charlottesville.

There's too much at stake -- the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season championship -- for her to lower the expectations for this game.

"The winner of this game is in first place. It's a big game, all right," said Weller.

As the last week of the ACC regular season begins, the title situation is simple. The 11th-ranked Cavaliers (19-5, 11-3) lead No. 12 Maryland (19-5, 10-4) by one game with two to play.

A Virginia win gives the Cavaliers their third consecutive outright regular-season championship, the first time that will have happened in the ACC. If Maryland wins, the teams would be tied going into Saturday's season finale, but the Terps would have the tiebreaker edge with two wins over Virginia.

Maryland and Virginia have become the ACC's marquee teams, with the conference's six Final Four appearances between them.

"I've never been here when they haven't been good," said Maryland guard Katrina Colleton. "We still have other rivalries, but I think the new players came here pointing toward Virginia."

Maryland leads the all-time series 20-15, but in the past two seasons, the Terps and Cavaliers have played dramatic contests, with all three games decided in the last minute and by a total of seven points.

In last season's first meeting in Charlottesville, the Terps led by 14 in the first half and by 10 with five minutes remaining before Virginia made a 9-0 run to close the deficit to one point with 1:58 remaining.

But former Virginia All-America guard Dawn Staley missed a shot at the buzzer that would have tied the game, and Maryland escaped with a 67-65 win. Four days later, it had the No. 1 ranking.

One month later, Maryland surrendered the top spot in the polls back to then-No. 2 Virginia in a dramatic 75-74 game played before more than 14,500 at Cole Field House. Jessie Hicks missed a baseline jumper as time ran out that would have given Maryland the win.

Last month, the Terps watched an eight-point halftime lead evaporate, thanks to clutch shooting from Virginia point guard Dena Evans in the second half.

The Cavaliers led by one with less than 45 seconds left, when Malissa Boles scored on a tough drive across the lane and converted the foul shot with 36 seconds left to give Maryland a 67-66 lead.

On the ensuing possession, Virginia squandered four chances to take the lead and a wide-open shot under the basket on the next possession that would have tied the game with less than 10 seconds remaining, as Maryland held on for a 70-66 win.

With five freshmen and three sophomores, the Cavaliers have had their share of growing pains, especially during New Year's week, when they dropped games to then No. 2 Vanderbilt and No. 20 Ohio State.

But Virginia coach Debbie Ryan has tinkered with her lineup, benching four-year starting forward Heidi Burge for sophomore Amy Lofstedt and working freshman forward Wendy Palmer into the rotation.

The moves have paid off, with Lofstedt giving Virginia an additional three-point threat, while Palmer is the team's second-leading scorer behind Burge's twin sister, Heather.

As a result, the Cavaliers have a five-game winning streak and have not been beaten at home this season.

"I think we got off slowly, partly just because they [younger players] were just getting used to college," said Evans, the senior point guard who leads the ACC in assists. "There's a lot to learn at this level, but they've learned well and I think we're peaking at the right time."

Meanwhile, Weller has done some tinkering, working senior guard Monica Bennett into the offensive flow. Bennett has averaged 16.0 points in her past three games and given the Terps an additional outside threat to loosen the suffocating zones that have enveloped Hicks this year.

"It's worked out nicely that we are able to play more players, and it's paid off for us," said Weller.

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