Rug pulled out for UM women

Basketball: Preseason signs pointed to a big year for Terps and an easy 500th victory for coach Chris Weller. Neither has happened.

March 01, 2002|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,SUN STAFF

Heading into the 25th Atlantic Coast Conference Women's Basketball Tournament, Maryland isn't exactly positioned where the Terrapins had expected to be when the season opened.

After last season's late surge to an NCAA tournament bid, the Terrapins appeared ready to make their move in the ACC and on the national stage.

They returned six starters, including injury redshirt Vicki Brick, and 11 of 12 letter winners. They had a No. 23 preseason national ranking and were predicted to finish as high as third in the ACC.

Instead, the Terrapins (12-16) have struggled to a 4-12 ACC record and landed in a last-place tie with Florida State.

"It's just been a challenging year," said Terps junior guard Terri Daniels. "We've had some hard breaks and we've had some good wins. It's been difficult to lose when we were expected to do well. That's something we've had to learn from."

The Terrapins, who won the inaugural ACC tournament, had hoped to be a strong contender for the 25th anniversary crown. No women's team has won more ACC tournaments than Maryland, which has taken eight, the last in 1989.

To win it now, the Terps must do it as the eighth seed. No eighth seed has ever won. They will open at 6 p.m. tonight against seventh-seeded Wake Forest (12-15, 5-11) at Greensboro Coliseum.

Two-time defending champion Duke, the No. 4 team in the nation, is the overwhelming favorite, having swept all ACC competition this season. The Blue Devils (24-3) are seeded first, with North Carolina (22-7, 11-5) second.

Still, Maryland coach Chris Weller won't count her team out just yet. She said Maryland's problems have been "little things," not big, consistent breakdowns, so she sees possibilities in the tournament.

"It's been an odd year, with Wake beating Carolina and things like that," said Weller. "Duke, Virginia and Carolina have been very consistent. The rest of us have been up and down. Anything can happen [in the tournament], but that's usually the case."

Maryland's defense ranks second in the conference, allowing 64.8 points a game, behind Duke's 64.2. Seniors MarchM-i Strickland, a third-team All-ACC selection, and Deedee Warley, honorable mention All-ACC, have both passed the 1,000-career point mark.

For the Terps, Sunday's 65-47 loss at Wake Forest, a team they defeated, 57-46, at home in January, dropped them into last place with Florida State. Only a win over third-seeded Clemson broke the tie and boosted the Terrapins into the eighth seed. The highest team Florida State had beaten was sixth-seeded North Carolina State.

The Terps started off the season well enough, going 9-6 and 2-2 in the ACC with wins over Clemson and Florida State. When they won their first meeting with Wake Forest on Jan. 24, they were 10-9, but they managed just two wins over their last nine games.

Should the Terps beat Wake Forest, one of four ACC teams they split with during the regular season, they would advance to play North Carolina tomorrow.

That would be the only hope for Weller to reach what appeared early on to be an almost certain milestone - her 500th career victory.

She came into her 27th season as the Terps' head coach needing 14 wins to become the 21st coach in NCAA Division I history to reach 500 - and only the seventh to reach the mark while spending an entire career at the same school.

At 498-285, Weller would have to guide the Terps to the ACC semifinals to hit the milestone this season.

"It would be bittersweet, no matter what," said Weller, a Maryland graduate. "We were hoping we would have a better shot at going to nationals and it looks like we'll have to win the tournament to go."

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