Terps' women keeping fingers crossed on NCAA

Selection would be icing on surprise 17-12 season

College Basketball

March 14, 2004|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

With one Maryland basketball team on the safe side of the bubble, the situation for the other is more problematic as the NCAA prepares to name teams today for the Division I tournaments that will start next weekend.

With the men's team in College Park all but assured ofan 11th straight tournament appearance, the women's team has arrived a year early in the rebuilding project undertaken by coach Brenda Frese in April 2002.

If the Terps (17-12) were to make the field, it would be the third trip in the past 11 years for the program, the last in 2001.

"The excitement is just the possibility of having the chance of getting to the NCAAs," said Frese, whose team improved on last year's 10-18 finish.

Picked to finish eighth in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Maryland finished third behind the play of senior Delvona Oliver and freshmen Kalika France and Shay Doron. The only demerits might come from the team's lack of a signature win - with North Carolina State as the team's top triumph this season - and a 1-9 record against Top 50 teams this season.

Yet the team's overall record, the ACC's reputation and its performance during last week's conference tournament might have provided a boost. The Terps hammered Florida State in the first round, then led top-ranked Duke deep into the second half before falling.

Frese said she likes what she's heard in conversations with coaches and administrators about Maryland's chances.

"We've done a lot of homework and a lot of people have told us that we're in," she said. "We've shown how we've developed during the season and how the team has learned the system."

As much as anything, whether the Terps get in might be a referendum on their conference this season, as the ACC might receive as few as two bids after getting at least four spots each of the previous 16 seasons.

The overall reputation of the conference fuels the optimism of Frese, who is hoping to place her second team in the NCAA tournament after taking Minnesota there in 2002.

With four Final Four appearances in the past six seasons, the ACC has established itself as one of the top women's leagues, and finished the 2003-04 season as the third-strongest conference, behind the Southeastern and Big 12.

"I'd be extremely disappointed if we only got two or three bids coming from a power conference," Frese said. "Compared to other schools getting five or six teams, you would like to think they'd look at the strength of the conference in the big picture of things."

One reason why the NCAA committee might keep the Terps outside is the perception of the ACC as being Duke and No. 9 North Carolina and then seven teams as scenery.

It took an 8-8 record to gain a tie with North Carolina for third place in the conference, the highest placing a .500 team has earned since the league began awarding a championship in women's basketball in 1978.

As of Friday, the league was 10-21 in nonconference games against top 50 teams, which does not rival the Southeastern Conference (26-25) or Big 12 (18-12). However, the ACC isn't far beyond the Big Ten (13-18) or Big East (14-22), each of which is expected to place six teams in the tournament.

Frese attributes the "degree of separation" between the top two and bottom seven to parity. The ACC is one of the last major conferences in which each school plays each of the others twice in the regular season.

Though the league wasn't impressive this season, Wake Forest was the only notable softie, whereas national power Connecticut played home-and-home series with only three of the other seven teams in the Big East considered for the NCAAs.

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