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Alyssa Thomas, Terps on last lap of race to fulfill their dreams

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With Alyssa Thomas chasing two of the most revered records in Maryland women's basketball history and less than a week from the senior's final regular-season home game, Terps coach Brenda Frese couldn't resist a little ruse at the expense of the two-time Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year.

Frese brought Thomas to the floor of Comcast Center after a practice last week, saying the two needed to discuss an issue.

The mysterious directive led Thomas to believe her coach was a tad cross.

After letting the two-time All-American sweat a little, Frese informed Thomas she would be having her No. 25 jersey raised to the rafters this afternoon after the ninth-ranked Terps' game against Virginia Tech.

"After the initial shock of thinking she was in trouble, she was honored obviously and extremely humbled," Frese said. "Extremely surprised and wasn't expecting it. A well-deserved honor and fitting that it takes place on Senior Day."

Thomas, who retaliated against the coach's prank by filling Frese's office with 1,000 brightly colored balloons, will join the likes of Crystal Langhorne and Marissa Coleman in receiving the highest individual honor afforded a basketball player at Maryland. Statistically, Thomas already is in their company, needing 34 points to break Langhorne's all-time school scoring record.

She also needs 75 rebounds to pass Langhorne for first place and 22 assists to move into fifth in that statistic. Averaging 18.7 points, a career-high 10.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists this season, Thomas is among four players in NCAA history with at least six career triple doubles. Her 60 double doubles are a school record.

"I was in shock," Thomas said of her reaction after learning about the ceremony. "I didn't expect it to come at all. … It took me by surprise, but I was extremely happy."

Apart from Thomas becoming the ninth player to have her jersey raised, Maryland is chasing a host of team aspirations, including advancing to its first Final Four since winning the national title. The Terps also can secure the No. 3 seed in the ACC tournament with a victory over Virginia Tech and a North Carolina State loss to second-ranked and undefeated Notre Dame.

The top four seeds receive double byes into the quarterfinals of the tournament, which begins Wednesday in Greensboro, N.C.

Maryland (23-5, 11-4 ACC) enters today's game having won seven of its past eight games and three in a row, including a 92-66 victory over Boston College on Thursday night in its final road game as a member of the ACC. Next season, the Terps, after 36 years in the league, are set to join the Big Ten Conference in all sports.

"As of now our confidence as a team, our chemistry as a team is just getting better," center Alicia DeVaughn said. "Every practice, every game that we play, it's just building toward [the postseason]I'm very happy with where we're at, so when we get to the tournament, our focus is going to be on that one goal."

DeVaughn and Thomas, who had game highs of 26 points and nine rebounds against the Eagles, are among five seniors who will be recognized before tip-off today. The others are reserves Essence Townsend and Sequoia Austin and starting guard Katie Rutan, who tied a school record with eight three-pointers in an 87-77 win against Florida State on Feb. 20 at Comcast Center.

Townsend redshirted last season with a torn ACL, and Austin began her college basketball career as a walk-on before being awarded a scholarship. Rutan sat out one season after transferring from Xavier.

"Four years ago as a freshman, I didn't know what to expect," Thomas said. "Now my jersey's being raised to the rafters. I've had a lot of great experiences, met a lot of great people, and I couldn't be happier with playing here at Maryland."

Regular-season finale

Virginia Tech

@No. 9

Maryland

Today, 2p.m.

gene.wang@washpost.com

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