Terp women to see if they can mirror top-ranked Virginia


The third-ranked Maryland women's basketball team should find out tonight if it is a serious contender for the Final Four.

The Terps travel to Charlottesville to play top-ranked Virginia. Tonight's game, which is expected to draw a University Hall capacity crowd of more than 8,800 as well as more than 40 national and local writers, should be the biggest contest to date of the women's college basketball schedule and a match of two nearly mirror teams.

The teams dominate four of the most important team categories in this week's Atlantic Coast Conference statistical review.

Maryland (12-1, 2-0 in the ACC) leads the conference and the nation in team field-goal percentage, hitting 52 percent of its shots. The Cavaliers (13-0, 3-0) lead the ACC in team scoring, averaging 87.5 points per game, and their 29.5 scoring margin is also tops in the league.

Defensively, both teams excel, using stifling presses to force turnovers and create transition baskets. The Terps are holding teams to 56.3 points per game and 39 percent field-goal accuracy, while the Cavaliers' opponents are shooting only 35 percent.

Virginia also played stellar defense last season, which ended with a 70-67 overtime loss to Tennessee in the national championship game. In their two meetings with Maryland last year, the Cavaliers pressured the Terps into committing 73 turnovers, and the Cavaliers won both games handily.

However, Maryland has picked up the intensity on defense, allowing 14 fewer points per game this season. No team has scored more than 70 points against the Terps.

"They are extremely balanced," said Virginia coach Debbie Ryan. "They have much better defensive players, especially on the perimeter."

Maryland's perimeter defenders -- sophomore Limor Mizrachi, junior Malissa Boles and senior forward Dafne Lee of Walbrook High -- will have their hands full keeping up with Virginia's three-guard offense of junior Dena Evans and seniors Tammi Reiss and Dawn Staley, the returning consensus national Player of the Year.

Inside, the Cavaliers go with a true Twin Towers format, starting juniors Heather and Heidi Burge, the world's tallest identical twin sisters. Both 6 feet 5, the Burges have developed an effective post offense, but Maryland's Jessie Hicks and Michele Andrew have the advantage in quickness.

The difference may be the Cavaliers' rebounding -- they average eight boards a game more than Maryland -- and their big game experience.

With just one regular gone from last year, the nucleus of the Virginia lineup has played in two Final Fours, a national championship game and a three-overtime thriller last season at North Carolina State.

The Terps, by contrast, have played in only two relatively close games all year and lost one of them to Auburn, which Virginia beat on the road.

And finally, tomorrow night's match will be played in front of a sellout crowd at University Hall, where the Cavaliers have won 15 straight.

"It's a lot more fun to play in front of our home fans than to go to a hostile place, but sometimes that can put pressure on you," said Ryan.

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