Maryland women see themselves in Purdue Both teams overcame low expectations to earn NCAA tournament spots

March 13, 1997|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

Teams in the middle of a tournament bracket generally are expected to be similar, but the NCAA women's selection committee should get extra credit for pairing two teams as virtually identical as Purdue and Maryland, eighth and ninth seeds in the Mideast Regional.

The Terps and Boilermakers, who meet tomorrow night at the Old Dominion Field House in Richmond, Va., in the first round of the tournament (ESPN2, 6 p.m.), are virtual mirrors of each other, from their records to their style of play to the numbers of players in their rotations.

"Purdue is a team that is in a similar kind of situation as we are. They've had to overcome a little bit of adversity throughout the year," said Maryland coach Chris Weller. "They're very balanced. They're not real big and they're not very deep, just like us. Maybe they remind me of us."

Said Purdue coach Nell Fortner: "There are some real defensive similarities. We've got some good athletes who are quick and get out and really can pressure the ball and can guard you. I think we're about the same size."

Also in the similarity vein, both teams exceeded expectations on the way to the NCAA tournament.

The Terps (18-9) were picked to finish sixth in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but instead tied for third in the league with Duke and North Carolina State, riding the nation's eighth stingiest defense to its first berth in the NCAAs since 1993.

"We felt that we did earn a spot and I'm glad the committee agreed," said Weller, who has led Maryland teams to three Final Fours in 22 years. "From here on in, we've got to play with a passion and that's what we intend to do."

The Terps, who haven't played since dropping their ACC tournament opener to Duke nearly two weeks ago, will likely attempt to exploit a size advantage in the post with 6-foot-2 junior center Kalisa Davis and 6-0 junior forward Stephanie Cross, who led the team in scoring (11.8) and looks to be bouncing back from a late-season slump.

Purdue (16-10) was picked to place eighth in the Big Ten, and for good reason. Only three players returned from a team that went 20-10 last season under previous coach Lin Dunn, whose contract wasn't renewed.

Fortner, who had been an assistant to Louisiana Tech coach Leon Barmore before taking a year to join the United States national team in preparation for the Olympics, inherited a team with six freshmen and four walk-ons. She appeared to headed to a lowly spot after a 6-6 start, including a one-point loss to lowly Rice.

But the Boilermakers caught fire in early February. They recorded five straight wins, including consecutive victories over Michigan State and Wisconsin, both ranked opponents, and a season-ending road win over No. 17 Illinois. Purdue was upset in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals by Indiana, but has won 10 of its last 14 since that .500 start.

"It was a matter of piecing things together. It was going to take time for us to jell and it was going to take a while for us to know the game," said Fortner, who was named Big Ten Coach of the Year. "It was a matter of buying into what this coaching staff was teaching them and playing hard. Those things happened and here we are."

Said Weller of Fortner: "She's done an outstanding job and she was very deserving of coach of the year honors. She has a tremendous background. She's very well-liked and a very respected young coach. Everybody believes Nell is very capable of being one of the finest coaches in women's basketball. It doesn't surprise anyone that she's done so well."

The Boilermakers have just seven players averaging 11 minutes or more and no player taller than 6-1, but senior center Jannon Roland was Big Ten Player of the Year, averaging 19.2 points and 7.4 rebounds.

In addition, sophomore guard Stephanie White (16.3 ppg), one of the nation's top recruits two years ago, will pose some matchup problems for the Terps on the perimeter with her size (5-11) and speed.

Pub Date: 3/13/97

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