The Washington Times - March 22, 2009, 07:00PM

I wrote just after the buzzer that Maryland seemed a little rusty today.

That wasn’t exactly correct. The Terrapins scored the first eight points, led 22-7 after 10 minutes, held a healthy rebounding advantage (52-34) and shot better than 50 percent in the first half. Not shabby.

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The thought that should have been floating through my mind was that Maryland didn’t look like the sort of dominant team a typical NCAA women’s champion looks like in the first round of the tournament. This is, of course, highly subjective, since winning by 29 points generally suggests a dominant performance.

It’s nice to say the women’s game is better and deeper than it was a decade ago, and it is true. That said, there aren’t that many teams that could plausibly win the whole tournament, and much of it is mainly because the best programs can still collect plenty of talent and keep it from trickling down to other teams.

There have been 15 NCAA women’s champions since the field expanded to 64 teams. All but two won their openers by at least 30 points.

(By comparison, six men’s champs – 1994 Arkansas, 1997 Arizona, 1998 Kentucky, 2002 Maryland, 2003 Syracuse and 2004 Connecticut – won their openers by less than 20 points in that span).

So Maryland winning by “just” 29? Kinda on the low side of things – especially considering the other elite seeds in this year’s field.

Yesterday, No. 2 seeds Auburn (by 36) and Stanford (by 35) rolled up big margins. Today, it was more of the same:

* Top-seeded Connecticut by 39 and second-seeded Texas A&M by 35 in the Trenton bracket.

* Top-seeded Duke cruised by 41 in the Berkeley bracket.

There’s still two more games to go (Baylor against Texas-San Antonio and Oklahoma against Prairie View A&M), and obviously simply winning matters more than winning by a humongous sum.

That said, here are the last 15 national champions and their opening round victory margins, a chart where winning in the 20s makes for a relatively close game:

YearChampFirst opponentScoreMargin
1994North Carolina
Ga. Southern
101-5348
1995ConnecticutMaine105-7530
1996TennesseeRadford97-5641
1997TennesseeGrambling91-5437
1998TennesseeLiberty102-5844
1999PurdueOral Roberts
68-4820
2000Connecticut
Hampton
116-4571
2001Notre Dame
Alcorn State
98-4949
2002ConnecticutSt. Francis (Pa.)
86-3749
2003ConnecticutBoston U.
91-4447
2004ConnecticutPenn91-5536
2005BaylorIllinois State
91-7021
2006MarylandSacred Heart
95-5441
2007TennesseeDrake76-3739
2008TennesseeOral Roberts
94-5539

Of course, victory margin isn’t anywhere near everything. Of the 10 teams that recorded 57-point victories in their opener heading into this season, just two (1982 Louisiana Tech and 2000 Connecticut) actually cut down the nets at the end of the season.

Patrick Stevens