Big crowd, TV, but Terps women vs. Virginia isn't as large as '92


COLLEGE PARK -- Even before the two teams take a jumper or shoot a free throw, tonight's Maryland-Virginia women's basketball game at Cole Field House is a success.

More than 4,000 tickets have been sold for the game, which makes the attendance the second highest in Maryland women's history.

The game also will be carried live on Home Team Sports and, through HTS' affiliation with Prime Network, will be seen by a regional and national audience.

So, if this game is such a success, why does it feel as though something is missing?

"It is different," said Maryland senior Katrina Colleton. "It's not quite the same as last year."

There is something missing -- about 10,000 fans and the circus atmosphere that surrounded last year's Maryland-Virginia game at Cole Field House.

On that February night, the Terps, ranked No. 1 in the nation, played host to the second-ranked Cavaliers before a sellout crowd of more than 14,500, the largest crowd in Atlantic Coast Conference women's basketball history and the biggest in women's basketball last season.

The game had been targeted for a month after the first game in Charlottesville and took on the atmosphere of a midseason national championship contest.

The Terps, unaccustomed to all the attention, faltered. Their 75-74 loss to Virginia began their slide. They lost four of their last nine games and were bounced from the NCAA tournament at the Mideast Regional final.

"A lot of people on our team felt pressure. We started playing as if we were afraid to lose it [the ranking] rather than playing to win," said Colleton.

This year's game carries none of the factors that led to last year's hype. For example, the Terps are ranked fifth in this week's coaches poll and Virginia is 10th, and each team has an ACC loss.

The crowd, while large by Terps standards, won't be nearly as big as last year's, so the pressure won't weigh as heavily on the participants.

Said Maryland coach Chris Weller: "They [the Terps] are really pretty focused on what we're all about. I don't think they'll be too distracted by opposing teams, rankings or any of those other side things."

Still, the game is important because the winner will be in sole possession of first place in the conference, with a leg up on the regular-season championship and the top seed in the ACC tournament in March.

"It's going to be so competitive in the ACC," said guard Malissa Boles. "Our loss to Florida State really woke us up, and I'm sure that Virginia got a message when they lost to Clemson. There just aren't any guarantees, so we need to play well."

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