COLLEGE PARK -- Maryland women's basketball coach Chris Weller spent a lot of time in the last 11 days, since the Terps beat Iona, downplaying the importance of her impending 400th career victory.
When it finally came yesterday, on the third try, in an 83-80 nail biter over North Carolina State at Cole Field House, Weller stayed consistent, attaching little significance to her new status as the 18th coach in women's history to reach that milestone and the ninth to win 400 games at one school.
"[The 400th victory] was never a monkey on my back," said Weller. "Each season is brand new, and that's what makes coaching interesting. If it wasn't that way, it would be too hard to take."
Weller accepted the congratulations of university President William E. Kirwan and a hug from athletic director Debbie Yow, the younger sister of N.C. State coach Kay Yow, who reached the 400-victory plateau last season.
"It's a great milestone in coaching, especially when a coach wins 400 victories at the same institution," said Kay Yow. "It's kind of crazy to credit it to one individual, since we have great players and staff that help us. I guess we get the credit because nobody else has been there as long as us."
The Terps (10-9, 2-6 in the Atlantic Coast Conference), who have taken their lumps from North Carolina and Virginia, the upper echelon of the league, in the last seven days, desperately needed yesterday's victory over the Wolfpack (10-7, 5-4), who beat Maryland, 68-45, in Raleigh earlier this month.
With just seven healthy players, and two of them in foul trouble, the Terps played their most inspired game of their ACC schedule, with fine interior defense, balanced scoring and clutch free-throw shooting.
Maryland held off a late N.C. State charge that shaved a 12-point second-half lead to three, before the Terps ran off six straight points to gain breathing room for a win Weller called the biggest of the season.
"It's a big win for us because it's nice to get rewarded for continuing to stick in there," said Weller. "We're not a great team by any stretch of the imagination, but we're beginning a team that eventually can be a great team. I told the team that it's not quantity but quality that counts. We may not have many in numbers, but we have good people."
One of those good people, freshman forward Stephanie Cross, celebrated her insertion into the starting lineup with an impressive game, finishing with 23 points -- 16 in the second half -- and 15 rebounds.
"[Cross' performance] didn't surprise me. I thought she showed a lot of potential to be a leader," Weller said. "We're young and we have to get some leadership. She's a very good player."
Cross had help, particularly from sophomore guard Lillian Purvis, who scored 18 points, making all eight of her free throws.
The teams exchanged leads throughout the afternoon, until the Terps surged ahead with a 16-5 run late in the second half to break a 53-all tie. However, the Wolfpack went to a full-court press that rattled the inexperienced Terps, who gave up four inbound steals on five possessions in the final four minutes.
Wolfpack guard Tammy Gibson and forward Umeki Webb made four three-pointers in that span, getting N.C. State to within 82-78 with 10 seconds left before Maryland senior Karon Ferguson made one of two foul shots with 9.9 seconds left to provide the final margin.
In fact, while the Wolfpack shot 55 percent from the field for the game, the Terps made 25 of 31 foul shots, including 15 of 16 in dTC the second half. N.C. State was only 12-for-19 from the line.
"If I was going to choose one stat to focus on, it would be foul shots, and they made more free throws than we took," said Kay Yow. "That's a pretty big stat."
.` Which led to a pretty big win.