UM women serve notice to ACC for '04-05

After second-round loss in NCAAs, Terps confident league should be worried

College Basketball

March 25, 2004|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Though Maryland's return to glory in women's basketball is still a work in progress, the team that came within a half of reaching the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament wasn't shy about expressing its confidence.

After losing to Louisiana State in Baton Rouge on Tuesday night, the 18-13 Terrapins used yesterday's flight to Baltimore-Washington International Airport as a chance to revel in warm feelings over exceeding the expectations of others. For a team that had been picked to finish eighth in the Atlantic Coast Conference, what its coach and players enjoyed most was a performance that served notice to others in its league.

"One of my biggest thoughts was what were the other ACC teams were thinking when they saw us play last night," Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. "Because it's exciting to think what the future is going to be in our conference. They've got to see what's coming."

Top-ranked Duke, with its string of 61 wins in 62 conference games, still stands unrivaled in the ACC. But in the race among the others to change that, no program seems to match the upward trajectory of the one at Maryland since Frese's staff arrived two years ago.

The first sign was the program's recruiting success, with four high-school All-Americans in the first two seasons. Guards Shay Doron and Kalika France starred as freshmen this season, and post players Laura Harper and Crystal Langhorne will join the team this fall.

But with players mostly left over from former coach Chris Weller, the Terps finished tied for third place with North Carolina State in the ACC. Moreover, they joined Duke as the only ACC teams to escape the first round in the NCAAs.

"For us to do this --with two new freshmen and then having seniors stepping up into the role they had to play -- for us to get as far as we did, I'm sure they're all worried," France said. "They should be."

Sunday's win over then-22-6 Miami, probably the best Maryland win since the team last made the NCAAs in 2001, validated a body of work that had lacked a win worthy of excitement. Saving its best for the postseason, the team overcame an early 12-point deficit, shot 58 percent from the field and held on to beat Miami, 86-85.

"We were joking about it in the locker room, `We finally got our quality win,'" said Vicki Brick, a former McDonogh star. "The knock on Maryland was that we had no quality wins all year. We finally got one. And there's no better time than the NCAA tournament."

Playing LSU on its own court, the Terps showed how far the team had come and the distance still left. Leading the No. 17 Tigers at halftime and within five points with 5:27 to go, Maryland didn't melt the way it once had against top teams like Penn State. LSU won, 76-61.

But what it takes to beat athletes like Seimone Augustus and Temeka Johnson is something for another day. "On their team," France said, "they have at least two All-Americans and they showed why. ... That's somewhere that me and Shay want to be, and that's where Chrissy [Fisher] wants to be also."

The trip south was a coming-out party for the Maryland program, but it was also a satisfying end for seniors Brick, Crystal Washington and Delvona Oliver.

"In the last 15 seconds of the game, it hit me that it was going to be the last game I played in a Maryland uniform," Brick said. "It's sad because it's over. The ride's over. But it's happy because of what we accomplished as a team. ... There's no better way to go out for a senior."

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