Terrapins earn No. 1 seed for NCAA tourney

Sting of upset eases

road to Final Four begins in Washington

March 11, 2002|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- It took only about 24 hours for the frowns to turn into smiles.

One day after suffering an upset loss to North Carolina State in the semifinal round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, the Maryland Terrapins are breaking new ground in a new season.

Second-ranked Maryland is headed for its ninth consecutive NCAA men's basketball tournament, and for the first time in school history, the Terps are a No. 1 seed. And they barely have to leave their campus to begin a journey they hope will conclude with a repeat trip to the Final Four and a taste of their first national championship.

As the top seed in the East Regional, the Terps (26-4) will open their quest early Friday afternoon at the MCI Center in Washington, against the winner of tomorrow's tournament play-in game between Alcorn State and Siena.

"I like the feeling, especially after losing [Saturday] in the ACC tournament," Maryland coach Gary Williams said yesterday after NCAA tournament berths were announced. "It's great to get this happening to us. This gives us a great feeling again. Right now, our whole focus is to do as well as we can in the NCAA tournament. Then you step back and see how you did."

Maryland, which has not been seeded in the East in 22 years, earned its lofty perch by winning its first regular-season ACC title since 1980.

The Terps tore through the conference with a 15-1 record, while finishing the regular season with a 25-3 record, the best in school history. That included a 15-0 record at home during their final season at Cole Field House.

Even with their stumble in Charlotte, N.C., against the Wolfpack on Saturday, which denied Maryland a chance to win its first ACC tournament since 1984 and kept it from reaching the final for only the second time since winning that crown, the Terps had done enough to satisfy the demands of the NCAA tournament selection committee.

"I think what the committee said was what we did during the regular season was more important than what happened in one weekend," Williams said.

"This puts us in a great position to do a lot of great things in this tournament. This is great, knowing we're a No. 1 seed and we get to play right down the street," said senior center Lonny Baxter, who hails from Rockville and played high school ball in Washington.

"It's a big advantage. We just want to get ready to play now. We want to put North Carolina State behind us and get back out on the court."

The Terps are no strangers to winning streaks. They reeled off nine straight victories after losing their season opener to Arizona on Nov. 8. Then, after losing at Duke on Jan. 17, Maryland won 13 consecutive games before the upset by the Wolfpack.

Maryland must win four straight to win the East -- the regional semifinals and final are at Syracuse, N.Y., after the first two rounds in Washington -- and return to the Final Four in Atlanta. A six-game winning streak would bring the national championship trophy to College Park.

The Terps are talking as if anything less than winning the big one will be a huge letdown.

"We talked about it coming back from the Final Four last year," junior forward Tahj Holden said. "We want to get to the national championship game and win the national championship. We are not going to be happy just with getting there."

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