Traditionally, the women's basketball team at the University of Maryland plays its best in the final month of the season. It's what coaches strive for but often don't get.
In past years, with the exception of the only losing season under 16th-year coach Chris Weller (9-18 in 1984-85), Maryland has charged down the stretch. Counting the last dozen games for each of the previous 14 seasons, the team has won 70.2 percent (118-50) and earned a record eight Atlantic Coast Conference tournament titles.
This season has been different. Although Maryland went 9-5 and tied for second in the regular ACC season, the team, which starts three freshmen and a sophomore along with Baltimore junior Dafne Lee, could do no better than 6-6 in its last 12 games, including a three-game losing streak and a stretch of five losses in seven games.
"I believe it was a situation where we had some illness and some injuries, rather than simply being inconsistent," said Weller, whose team will play tonight at 7:30 in a first-round game in the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament, as the Terrapins (17-12) meet Holy Cross (24-5) for the first time. "We're a young team, and it took time to get a regular lineup.
"The thing I like about this group is its enthusiasm. I was fairly certain we'd get a bid, but they didn't know, so when they called Sunday to talk about it, they were cheering. They can really be proud of their accomplishments."
In contrast to Maryland, which has one starter (Lee) and two reserves who were members of the Terrapins' Final Four entry two years ago, Holy Cross has four starters who remember a 90-80 loss to Temple in the first round of the NCAA tournament two years ago, and the Crusaders are bent on not letting this one get away. For the year, the team has outscored its foes by an average of 77-65 and out-rebounded them by an average of 40-34.
The winner of tonight's game will go on to a second-round game Sunday (3 p.m.) at Auburn University (24-5). That survivor, along with the winners of three other second-round games, will move to the Mideast Regional semifinals March 21 in Knoxville, Tenn.
Tennessee (25-5) is the top seed in the region. The other No. 1 seeds are Penn State (29-1) in the East, Virginia (27-2) in the Midwest and Georgia (26-3) in the West.