Terps' new position is not their favorite

Women

Ncaa Tournament

March 23, 2006|By EDWARD LEE | EDWARD LEE,SUN REPORTER

College Park -- The target on the Maryland women's basketball team would seem to have gotten exponentially bigger. Not that the Terps need that.

A couple hours after Maryland, the No. 2 seed in the Albuquerque Regional, outlasted No. 7 seed St. John's on Tuesday night to advance to the program's first Sweet 16 in 14 years, No. 1 seed Ohio State was bounced from the NCAA tournament by No. 8 Boston College.

The elimination of the Buckeyes leaves the Terps (30-4) as the highest seed remaining in the regional. Maryland will meet Baylor (26-6), the defending national champion and No. 3 seed, on Saturday night at 9 at Bob King Court in Albuquerque, N.M.

The winner of that contest will meet the winner of Boston College (21-11) and No. 5 seed Utah (26-6) for the right to advance to the Final Four in Boston on April 2 and 4.

The Terps have never played Baylor or Utah, but Maryland defeated Boston College twice - 67-64 in overtime at Boston College on Jan. 5 and 86-59 at Comcast Center on Feb. 16.

But after the Ohio State loss, television analysts talked about Baylor's path to another national title and the selection committee's decision not to award the No. 1 seed to Tennessee. That's why the Terps are not buying the Albuquerque favorite label just yet.

"People are talking Baylor up for it and that Tennessee should've gotten the No. 1 [seed]," Terps junior guard Shay Doron said. "And nowhere - anywhere - does it say that Maryland's up for that. So we're fine with that. We've been playing like that all year."

Added sophomore forward Laura Harper: "We're not the favorites, and we won't be until we win the national championship. We just have to go out there and prove it."

College basketball analyst Debbie Antonelli said the road to Boston has one fewer obstacle for the Terps, who haven't reached the Final Four since 1989.

"Now you go from having a No. 1 seed in your bracket to being the highest seed left," Antonelli said. "Now you know everybody's going for you, and they have the tougher side. ... They should have confidence. But they're going to have to guard [Baylor's] Sophia Young, and that's not going to be easy."

Young, a 6-foot-1 senior forward, is the reigning Big 12 Conference Player of the Year and leads the Lady Bears in several major categories, including scoring (22.2 points per game), rebounding (10.0) and field-goal percentage (.551).

Sophomore point guard Angela Tisdale is second on the team in scoring (11.8) and first in assists (6.0), but perhaps more important than the numbers is that Baylor has endured the pressure and expectations associated with playing in the latter stages of the NCAA tournament.

"They're not going to be nervous," said Maryland sophomore center Crystal Langhorne, who registered 30 points and nine rebounds in the win against the Red Storm. "They won the national championship last year, and they've got great post players and great guards. We know it's going to be a great matchup."

To fulfill their end of that prediction, the Terps must overcome the anxiety that hampered them during Tuesday's 81-74 victory over the Red Storm (22-8).

In that game, Maryland was at times unnerved, its execution on offense was inconsistent and its defense wasn't constricting.

Coach Brenda Frese, who yesterday was named one of the four finalists for the Naismith Award Women's Coach of the Year, said she is not concerned that the team will be burdened by that pressure again.

"From this team's end, we learned how it feels to go out and play very nervous, and playing not to lose and putting that kind of pressure on ourselves," she said. "So I really expect this team to be able to bounce back - we have all season long - and just come out and play a more relaxed and confident way."

Antonelli agreed. She pointed out that Maryland has defeated No. 1-ranked North Carolina in Chapel Hill, No. 4 Duke in Greensboro and No. 16 Michigan State in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and has four overtime wins this season.

"They should have a confident swagger," Antonelli said. "They shouldn't be nervous. What they're doing is they're playing like the hunted, and they need to get aggressive. They're young, they have no seniors in the starting lineup, and with their balanced offensive attack, that's a lot of offense to guard. If they just play, they'll be fine."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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