Will Terps be breakfast champions? Women await word on No. 1 ranking


COLLEGE PARK -- When cornered on the subject, Maryland women's basketball coach Chris Weller will admit that, yes, it would be nice to be ranked No. 1 in the national polls.

The Terps, ranked third in last week's The Associated Press poll, may know that feeling for the first time in the program's history today when the new poll is released around breakfast time.

But if that comes -- and it is by no means a certainty that it will -- Weller will be happy, not for the personal recognition that comes with a top ranking, but for the notice that it may bring to the sport in this region.

"It would draw attention to the program, and draw attention to the sport in this area," said Weller.

"It's January, and it really doesn't matter who the No. 1 team in the country is. But other than that, the attention that it draws would be nice."

Already, the potential of going to the top has attracted more attention than the Terps (14-1, 4-0 in the ACC) have gotten all season.

After Maryland beat top-ranked Virginia, 67-65, in Charlottesville on Wednesday, the phones in both Weller's office and in Maryland's sports information department rang more frequently than they had all season.

By Saturday night, when the Terps beat North Carolina, 72-68, the talk had turned into real spectators. The attendance of 2,033 was almost double the previous high of 1,025 against Rutgers and was almost four times the average of 574.

"A lot of people in the area were excited about seeing us, especially after we beat the No. 1 team," said Weller. "If a ranking can perhaps get us more attention, then it's good."

There is still room, though slight, to wonder if the Terps will get the top ranking.

Earlier this season, when Tennessee, Virginia and Stanford held the top three slots, the Cardinal beat the Volunteers in Palo Alto, Calif., but the Cavaliers moved into the top slot.

Tennessee, which is ranked second, lost on the road Saturday night, 80-78, in overtime to ninth-ranked Mississippi.

The question then is whether the 71 coaches who vote in the AP poll will give Maryland's two-point win over Virginia enough credence to give the Terps the No. 1 slot.

The Cavaliers, while giving the Terps their due Wednesday, suggested that their performance was off their normal standard, a sentiment alluded to by ESPN analyst Ann Meyers during a Stanford-Southern California telecast Thursday night.

Virginia (14-1, 4-1) blitzed 17th-ranked Clemson, Maryland's opponent tonight, 85-52, Saturday at home and received all but two first-place votes last week. There is some suspicion that the Cavaliers' loss to the Terps was a fluke.

The voting likely will be close, and Maryland, which rose a spot from fifth to fourth after losing to Auburn last month, will, at worst, wind up with a No. 2 ranking, the best the school has managed since it was ranked second during the first two weeks of the 1978-79 season.

If the Terps, who started the season ranked 15th and moved into the top 10 two weeks later, aren't ranked No. 1, they might put their finger on Saturday night's game as the culprit.

The third-place Tar Heels (12-2, 3-2) who trail Virginia in the ACC, battled the Terps all the way, just one year after completing their third straight last-place finish in the league.

"They deserve to be in the top 15," said Weller of North Carolina. "The only team they had lost to was Virginia, and they were down only four points with six minutes left. I knew this was going to be a really good game."

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