Spot in NCAAs is nice surprise for Maryland

On their way back up, 8th-seeded Terps to face Colorado State in East

NCAA Women's Tournament

March 12, 2001|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- The news -- all of it good -- came quickly to the Maryland women's basketball team, which earned an invitation to the NCAA tournament yesterday for the first time since 1997.

The Terrapins (17-11) will meet Colorado State (24-6) in the East Regional's first round at 9:30 p.m. Saturday in Storrs, Conn., where top-seed Connecticut will be the host. The game was the second of the 32 announced on the televised selection show, making the players joyful as they watched.

"We thought we were going to have to wait awhile," said guard Marche Strickland of Maryland, which was one of six Atlantic Coast Conference teams to make the NCAAs. "But when it popped up, we all just jumped up and started screaming. We all went a little crazy."

"It almost lifted you up, they screamed so loud," said Terps coach Chris Weller, who is taking her team to the NCAAs for the 12th time. "Maryland flashed up on the screen, and I don't remember one more thing."

It was another step in the long road back for Maryland, once proud but recently maligned and 6-21 just two seasons ago.

Last season, Strickland and forward Deedee Warley led the Terps to a quarterfinal appearance in the Women's National Invitation Tournament, which Weller thought might have helped her team for this season.

Two of the teams that Maryland played in last year's WNIT -- Virginia Tech and Florida -- also made this NCAA tournament.

"We used that when we tried to get them excited about going to the NIT last year," Weller said. "If your team can advance through the NIT, then the next step is the NCAA."

Despite losing point guard Vicki Brick to a knee injury, the Terps were able to make a strong case for an NCAA appearance by sweeping two ranked teams, North Carolina State and Clemson, in the ACC, rated the nation's toughest league when the season ended.

Maryland also was No. 35 in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), a statistical tool used to measure a team's strength. Weller hoped that her team wouldn't lose an at-large bid to a school with a better record in a smaller conference.

Weller did not think that her team was guaranteed to get into the tournament. She argued that Florida's No. 32 RPI was not good enough to get in last year. And, with a sixth-place finish in the conference and a double-digit loss total -- including five losses in the final seven games -- the Terps expected to be one of the last ones invited to the tournament, with a 10th or 11th seed. Instead, they were awarded a No. 8 seed.

"I feel like we've done everything we can do to get a shot at it," Weller had said on Saturday.

Warley said the team tried its best not to alter its routines last week, even though there was a chance that it might be playing for another WNIT appearance.

The Terps practiced until the later part of the week and tried to catch up on homework missed during the ACC tournament.

"We tried to handle it like any other week," Warley said. "Something was going to happen ... so we were just wishing for the best."

In the end, Maryland, which isn't familiar with Mountain West Conference winner Colorado State, was surprised to be seeded so high.

The Terps are also excited about the opportunity to play at Gampel Pavilion on the University of Connecticut's campus in Storrs. Strickland, who grew up in the New England region -- Kingston, Mass. -- has experienced it before.

"I've been to a Connecticut game before," she said, "and I know how the crowd is -- kind of crazy."

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