- Associated Press - Saturday, March 22, 2014

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) - Alyssa Thomas and Jen Hazlett both have used college basketball to prepare for the next stages of their lives.

Thomas, a senior at Maryland and three-time Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year, expects a lengthy career in the WNBA.

Hazlett, the lone senior on an Army team that won the Patriot League championship, will spend the next several years serving her country.

Before Thomas and Hazlett go their separate ways, they will meet on the court Sunday in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Fourth-seeded Maryland (24-6) faces 13th-seed Army (25-7) before fifth-seed Texas (21-11) takes on No. 12 seed Penn (22-6), champions of the Ivy League.

Although Maryland has never faced Army, the Terrapins have a good idea what to expect. Two years ago, Maryland opened the tournament with a hard-fought 59-44 win over Navy.

Thomas knows that service academy teams traditionally play hard, are well-disciplined and fundamentally sound. They also do more than merely go to class and play hoops.

“I just have a great respect for them,” Thomas said Saturday. “They get up at 6 a.m., do runs, play basketball and after this they’re going to serve our country.”

That exactly what is in store for Hazlett, a 5-foot-11 native of Utah. She will remain with the team as a graduate assistant until January before fulfilling her military obligation in Virginia and Georgia.

Hazlett’s time on the court was instrumental in preparing her for what lies ahead.

“Basketball has shaped my leadership style more than anything,” she said.

This will be Hazlett’s first appearance in the NCAA tournament. Thomas is 4 for 4, but during her stay the Terrapins have gotten past the Sweet 16 only once and have yet to reach the Final Four.

Thomas is the Maryland women’s career scoring leader with 2,258 and needs only 12 points to pass Juan Dixon’s school record.

“It’s not really on top of my list right now,” she said. “It’s more about trying to get a national championship.”

Here are five things to know about Sunday’s games in College Park:

PENN IS MIGHTIER: After going 12-18 last year, Texas is making its first appearance under second-year coach Karen Aston. The Longhorns won’t be taking Penn lightly, even though the Ivy League is 1-21 in NCAA tournament play.

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