At end of day, Terps women had every right to be smiling


March 14, 2005|By LAURA VECSEY

ON SELECTION Sunday, the Terrapins women could easily afford to be happy. They weren't Virginia, set up to meet cross-state stalwart Old Dominion in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

The Terps weren't Temple, whose sixth seed is a slap, slating the Owls for a second-round showdown against Rutgers.

How did these two slugfest programs, coached by supernovas Dawn Staley and Vivian Stringer, get caught in such unfortunate early NCAA tournament death matches? Someone get us rewrite. Temple and Rutgers deserve the chance to go deeper into the draw than fate, or rather the selection committee, will allow.

Nor were the Terps slighted like Stanford, with veteran coach Tara Vanderveer tough as ever, refusing to blink or whine into the camera despite a No. 2 seed that belies Stanford's claim as best team in the West.

And the Cardinal faces a potential Sweet 16 showdown against defending national champion No. 3 UConn? This is where the No. 2 seed hurts Stanford the most.

Nor were the Terps in the kind of on-the-road-again situation that the best team in the country, LSU, found itself.

The Lady Tigers -- with two of the best players in the nation and a mandate to win a national title that eluded them last year on their almost-home court at the New Orleans Superdome -- have to open their title run on Pat Summitt's home court. They're still the team to beat.

Meanwhile, Tennessee's Summitt -- set to tie Dean Smith's all-time win record -- will find her quest to play for another national title tough, especially because Summit has to take her No. 1-seeded Lady Vols on the road, too.

But for the Terps, the selection committee could do very little to dampen the party mood in College Park. This year, it's home sweet home for the Terps, who've made it back to the Dance for the second consecutive season. That's the first time since the early '90s, and the Terps got rewarded for it.

They got to sit back and ponder the wondrous -- and sometimes alarming -- possibilities of this mad, mad March.

Will the Terps spend time worrying about falling victim to the vertically challenged and less-than-speedy University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, which doesn't seem at all likely?

Or, more tempting, could the Terps' situation prompt imaginations to run wild with this hoop dream scenario, one in which No. 7 Maryland not only takes care of No. 10 UW-GB on Sunday, but also upsets No. 2 Ohio State, thanks to home-court advantage?

This would push the Terps into the East Region's Sweet 16, in Philly, where such heavy hitters as Temple (Staley) or Rutgers (Stringer), N.C. State (Kay Yow) and Tennessee (Summit) could loom.

Urgent memo to Terps coach Brenda Frese, as well as standout Maryland players Shay Doron, Crystal Langhorne and Kalika France:

Give us some of that action, ladies. Please.

"They're very skilled and disciplined, and they won't turn the ball over," Frese said yesterday.

"I hope our size and speed would make a difference. You would think that realistically, that might be an advantage, but look at last year. We were a 12th seed and no one expected us to win that game," she said.

Let us make one small suggestion to the heavy-hearted college basketball fans who'll sorely miss Gary Williams and his version of the Terps in the men's 2005 NCAA tournament. There aren't a lot of positives about that situation, unless the bitter taste of not extending the Terps' tournament appearance streak to 12 fuels John Gilchrist and Co. to make a serious run next season.

In the meantime, look at what's before us. It is the Terrapins women, rising stars in the ACC and the nation who, had they not lost freshman standout Laura Harper to a ruptured Achilles', would have remained ranked all season and drawn an even higher seed in this year's tournament.

"We've gone from a 12 to a 7 in one year, in spite of missing Laura Harper, so that says something about where the program is going nationally," Frese said.

But the Terps have every reason to feel good about their situation. In a year in which the women's tournament is being contested like the men's draw, with eight teams competing at eight sub-regional sites, there are 50 percent fewer opportunities for home-court advantage in first- and second-round games on Sunday and March 22. That makes the Terps particularly lucky this March, since the University of Maryland is playing host to a sub-regional.

Virginia Tech (vs. DePaul) and Penn State (vs. Liberty) will no doubt lure their share of fans to College Park, which will also see Holy Cross (Ohio State's 15th-seeded opponent.)

It's no wonder then that women's college basketball analysts are quick to point out that after the Terps set an Atlantic Coast Conference attendance record earlier this season against Duke, the Comcast Center will likely prove a formidable setting for any team attempting to knock off the Terps.

That could even include a team like the Buckeyes, the sleeper pick of many to advance to the Final Four.

"They have speed, athleticism, depth, good shooters and a lot of veterans," Frese said of the Buckeyes. Frese might know better than anyone, since Ohio State attempted to lure her to Columbus in 2002.

In the women's world of college hoops, there's no question that nothing they do compares to the outsized, overblown, wild and wooly world of the men's tournament. It's a complete differently game played by completely different kinds of athletes.

That doesn't mean the women's tournament is without its luster and intrigue. The Buckeyes wanted Frese. Frese came to Maryland. Maryland is taking aim at a second-round game against the Buckeyes.

These are the sub-plots and this is the intrigue that helps make the women's version of March Madness increasingly more compelling. Now the Terps are part of a bigger collage of drama and theater. Only theirs is a home theater, which makes it sweet right from the opening tip.

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