- The Washington Times - Monday, March 21, 2005

The Maryland women’s basketball team has pinned its season on improving on last year’s trip to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Tonight, the seventh-seeded Terrapins (22-9) will receive their litmus test when they play host to second-seeded Ohio State (29-4) in a Philadelphia bracket second-round game at Comcast Center.

“I think Maryland is at a point now where we can go either way,” Maryland senior guard Anesia Smith said. “We have the opportunity to step into the category as one of the elite teams for years to come or one of those teams that stays on the bubble every year. To get to the Sweet 16 this season would be huge. … At the same time, we’re definitely taking steps in the right direction to be one of those elite teams.”

For the Terps to make progress tonight, they will have to defeat an Ohio State team that is virtually their mirror image. Both schools hired new coaches after the 2001-02 season (Brenda Frese at Maryland, former Vanderbilt coach Jim Foster at Ohio State) to rejuvenate programs mired in extended periods of mediocrity.

Foster inherited a bit more talent than Frese, but there has been little difference in the results. The Terps (two) and the Buckeyes (three) have made it to consecutive NCAA tournaments for the first time in more than 10 years, and both rely heavily on their impressive centers.

More significantly, neither program has reached the second weekend of the tournament in more than a decade. Maryland hasn’t been to the regional semifinals since 1992, while Ohio State has not escaped the second round since its Final Four run in 1993.

“There’s definitely similarities, not only with the coaching staffs and the whole situation, but with the way we play,” Maryland guard Shay Doron said. “I think it’s going to be an interesting game to watch. I expect it to be a very low-scoring game because we are that similar and we kind of practice it every day and play against it every day.”

The key for both teams could prove to be their dominating post presences. Maryland center Crystal Langhorne averages a double-double (17.0 points, 10.5 rebounds), and the Terps struggled when the 6-foot-3 freshman got into foul trouble in the first half of Sunday’s 65-55 first-round defeat of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

The Buckeyes counter with Jessica Davenport, the Big Ten’s player of the year. The 6-4 sophomore had 23 points and 11 rebounds as Ohio State dominated 15th-seeded Holy Cross 86-45 in the first round.

“Jessica has a tremendous amount of size and is very difficult to guard when she gets you down on the low block,” Frese said. “I think it will be a tremendous matchup between two big centers, and I think it’s going to come down to being able to neutralize everyone else.”

Ohio State is the only team forced to play on a lower-seeded foe’s court in the first two rounds, but the Buckeyes are excited about a potentially exciting atmosphere at Comcast rather than upset about the Terps’ homecourt advantage.

The 9:30 p.m. midweek tip could prove a buzzkill for spectators, who could have work and school the next day. However, Foster isn’t concerned about how it will affect the quality of play.

“For an 18- to 22-year old, 9 o’clock is not late,” Foster said. “I remember being that age and going out at midnight. I don’t really have a curfew [for my players], but I would like to think that occasionally my team does go out late. I think it was probably a lot harder to play at noon than at 9 o’clock at night. Now if it was us [coaches and media], the game would be over by 9:30 because we’d all be in bed.”

Note — The opener of the Comcast doubleheader features fifth-seeded DePaul (26-4) and 13th-seeded Liberty (25-6), the tournament’s lowest remaining seed, in a Chattanooga bracket game. The Flames, who lost in the first round in each of the last eight years, became the first Big South team to win a tournament game with Sunday’s 78-70 defeat of fourth-seeded Penn State.

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