- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2004

The wait was long, but it was well worth it for the Maryland women’s basketball team.

After sweating out much of the NCAA tournament selection show yesterday, the Terrapins slipped into the 64-team field as the No.12 seed in the West Region. Maryland (17-12), which will face fifth-seeded Miami on Sunday in Baton Rouge, La., earned its first NCAA bid since 2001 and only its second in the last 11 years. It was also the Terps’ first postseason appearance under second-year coach Brenda Frese.

“We’re so excited,” said Frese, who was 10-18 in her first year at Maryland. “Obviously, I feel so proud of this team to watch them develop and get to this point.”

Meanwhile, George Washington earned a No.8 seed in the Midwest Region. An at-large selection out of the Atlantic 10, the Colonials will face DePaul on Saturday in Tallahassee, Fla.

Maryland was the lowest-seeded at-large team, and it was forced to endure a harrowing wait to learn its postseason fate. There were several close calls, including Marist and Marquette, during the first half of the selection show that elicited muffled cheers and gasps from the 150 team members and fans who gathered at Comcast Center before Maryland was unveiled late in the broadcast. The sight of Maryland on the large television screen sent the crowd into such a frenzy that few people in the room realized where the Terrapins had been sent to play.

“I almost jumped out of my chair [when Marist popped up], but I had to be sure. I didn’t want to be embarrassed,” said senior center Delvona Oliver, who ranks third for Maryland with 10.6 points a game. “But when I saw Maryland, oh my God, I couldn’t do anything but jump up. I didn’t even know who we were playing. I just saw Maryland.”

Maryland spent the last week perched squarely on the tournament bubble. The Terps finished the season with an RPI of 47 and posted a 1-9 record against the top-50 teams in the power index. The lone win had been against fellow bubble team N.C. State on Jan.2.

Yet the youthful Terps were impressive down the stretch. After losing to Duke before the second-largest crowd in ACC history Feb.22, Maryland won at Clemson to finish the regular season with an 8-8 conference record. The Terps then routed Florida State 62-47 in the ACC quarterfinals and pushed Duke before dropping a seven-point decision to the eventual ACC champions and No.1 seed in the Mideast.

In Miami, the Terps will face a program that will join the ACC next season. The Hurricanes (22-6) won 16 of their first 17 games before a pedestrian 6-5 finish.

The teams have a brief history, with Maryland winning two of the meetings. Miami routed the Terps 97-66 last season.

“They’re a tough team,” Oliver said. “I didn’t really see them play this year. Last year we lost to them, but that was last year. This is this year.”

Last year, the Hurricanes didn’t have to contend with Shay Doron (13.0) and Kalika France (11.7), a pair of quick freshmen guards who pace the Terps in scoring. Maryland also boasts a solid post game, as well as an inside-outside threat in 6-foot forward Chrissy Fisher.

“I tell you what, I wouldn’t want to draw us,” Frese said. “I think teams will have matchup problems for us. I think for a lot of people we will be a difficult matchup.”

The Maryland-Miami winner will face fourth-seeded Louisiana State or No.13 seed Austin Peay in the second round.

George Washington (22-7) won the Atlantic 10 West in the regular season before losing in the conference semifinals to Saint Joseph’s. The Colonials, who collected 20 wins for the fifth straight year, are making their 11th NCAA appearance since 1991.

DePaul, meanwhile, seemed destined for a far higher seed during a 22-2 start. However, the Blue Demons lost their last four games — all away from home — to tumble to a No.9 seed.

“It’s a great matchup,” GW coach Joe McKeown said. “We played the last couple years and split. It’s a pretty even matchup. It should be a great game, which should be the case when you have an 8-9 game.”

Barring a massive upset, the Colonials would meet Tennessee if they advanced to the second round. The top-seeded Lady Vols (26-3), who boast 18 wins over teams in the tournament field, defeated GW 65-51 at Smith Center on Dec.30.

Penn State (East) and Texas (West) joined Duke and Tennessee as the No.1 seeds.

The tournament selection committee treated the power conferences favorably. The Big East received eight bids, matching the record set by the SEC in 1999 and 2002.

Meanwhile, the SEC and Big 12 both sent seven teams to the tournament, while the Big Ten earned six bids.

The ACC, which appeared in danger of sending just two teams, instead had four teams selected. N.C. State (16-14), which had an RPI of 49 and sat tenuously on the bubble along with Maryland, earned the No.10 seed in the East.

“We felt like we had played, with our strength of schedule, so many competitive and tough games,” Frese said. “It’s nice to see our league rewarded in that way.”

One of the few teams nationally that was grumbling was Stanford. The Cardinal (24-6) were given a No.6 seed despite winning both the Pac-10 regular season and tournament titles and boasting an RPI of 16.

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