- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2008

For decades, promotional people at the University of Maryland have hyped their primary basketball program as “Garyland.”

No more, folks. Now it should be called “Brenda’s Bailiwick” because the women’s hoops program in Terptown has been outdoing its male counterparts for quite a while.

Imagine this scene one day last week: Coaches Gary Williams and Brenda Frese meet at a water cooler in the bowels of Comcast Center, and the following dialogue ensues.

Gary: “Good morning, Brenda, and congratulations on making the NCAA tournament again.”

Brenda: “Out of my way, boy, ya bother me.”

That wouldn’t happen, of course, because major college coaches here, there and everywhere are safely ensconced in their own little worlds. But if you compare recent records, Frese might be justified in giving Williams the back of her dainty hand.

Consider …

The Maryland men finished 19-15 this season, missing the NCAA tournament for the third time in four years.

The women are 31-3, ranked fifth nationally in the Associated Press poll and making their fifth straight NCAA tournament as they venture forth against Nebraska tonight in the second round of the Spokane regional. (Hmm, do you suppose somebody at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis thought College Park was a suburb of the other Washington?)

How completely have matters turned and churned? Over the last four seasons, the men are 82-50, or a .621 winning percentage. The women are 115-23, or .830, with a national title of their own in 2006. The huge difference qualifies as wow! stuff.

Not that Williams is in any trouble — he has a long-term contract and undoubtedly will work at his alma mater as long as he wants to — but the mediocre effort by many of his recent squads is almost enough to summon up memories of his short-lived and unlamented predecessor, Bob Wade.

As every fan knows, the extremely intense Williams practically has kittens on the sideline during every game.

Frese went him one better last month when she gave birth to twins late in the season. As motivational factors go, Brenda won that game, too.

Asked during a press conference yesterday whether she took pride in the fact that she now coaches Maryland’s signature program, Frese dodged the question more adroitly than you would expect of a new mother.

Predictably, she talked about how proud she was of her team’s true grit and hard work. Then, even more predictably, she discussed how big a challenge it faces from 21-11 Nebraska and scoring leader Kelsey Griffin, a “very, very, very talented player” who leads the Cornhuskers in scoring (15.5) and rebounding (7.2).

Funny thing, Frese didn’t mention that three of her own players score more points and collect more rebounds than Griffin.

Nor did she thumb her nose, literally or figuratively, at Williams, who presumably was elsewhere either recruiting or sobbing over this winter of his discontent.

It remains to be seen whether Frese’s Terrapins can move onward and upward in a postseason grind that offers formidable roadblocks in top-ranked Connecticut, No. 2 North Carolina and No. 3 Tennessee. But there can be no doubt this team has commanded and deserves much more attention than any other roundball outfit in these parts, especially after the Georgetown men fell to Davidson.

Plus, women’s basketball no longer is an ugly stepchild on the college sports scene, hasn’t been for some time now, and the public is catching on. For seven ACC home games this season, Frese’s gang averaged 11,407 paying customers at Comcast Center. Long gone are the days when spectators at Cole Field Hose and Comcast constituted a nice, intimate gathering.

As for the competitive aspect, “We’re tired of questions about last season [and a surprising tournament loss to Mississippi],” Frese said. “We’re ready to play, and I’m confident we’ll play well.”

Well, why not, particularly with All-ACC point guard Kristi Toliver hale and hearty again after moaning low through Sunday’s semifinal with flu and an upset stomach.

Keep your eye on these Terps. And, oh yes, eat your heart out, Gary.

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