Terps seek elusive ACC title

The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK -- The Maryland women's basketball team, and especially its seniors, has an impressive list of accomplishments over the past three years, including a lengthy stint atop the national polls last season, more victories than any other class in program history, and, of course, the national title two years ago.

But, unless the fifth-ranked Terps have a breakthrough at this weekend's Atlantic Coast Conference tournament at the Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum, the Maryland seniors will finish their careers without an ACC regular season or tournament title, a fairly sizable hole in their resume.

"It's the one thing we haven't done. We just have to go out and win that," senior forward Crystal Langhorne said.

Getting the ACC title might sound that simple, but the trophy has proved to be an elusive target for the Terps, who won eight of the first 12 tournaments but haven't captured one since 1989, reaching the final only twice over that span.

This season might represent Maryland's best chance to get that elusive ninth tournament championship, as the Terps (29-2, 13-1 ACC) head into today's quarterfinal with Boston College as the tournament's No. 2 seed and riding a seven-game winning streak.

The Terps seem to be as confident now as they were two years ago.

"I feel like we've been battle-tested," coach Brenda Frese said. "Nobody's been talking about us. It's kind of a similar thing to two years ago. We've had the overtime games, we've played the tough nonconference schedule. ... We've played so many ranked opponents. I just feel like after 31 games, this team has been through it all, seen every style of play and every conference imaginable. We're definitely prepared for this final push."

That push includes a run at a potential top seed in the NCAA tournament when the bracket is released March 17. The Terps have played nine ranked opponents, winning seven of those games, and tied a school record with 13 ACC wins.

But Maryland likely will need to reach the tournament final Sunday and avenge one of those losses, a 97-86 double-overtime setback to No. 2 North Carolina in late January, to have a chance at a No. 1 seed.

"This weekend means a lot to us," said point guard Kristi Toliver, who was named first-team All-ACC this week along with Langhorne, who also was chosen league Player of the Year.

"We've never won an ACC tournament. That's a huge thing. We want revenge against Carolina, and that's probably who we're going to see in the championship game, if things hold up. Obviously, trying to get the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament is, big picture, what we've been pointing for all season."

And they'll make that push with Frese back in the fold. The coach, who gave birth to twin boys Feb. 17, dropped in on the team Sunday at North Carolina State and returned to practice Tuesday, fulfilling a goal she set to come back before the end of the season.

Frese said her preference would be to win the national title, as the Terps did in 2006, when they lost to the Tar Heels in the ACC final but defeated them in the national semifinals.

"At the same time, we're all greedy," Frese said. "We'd like both [ACC and national titles]. To have an ACC title would be tremendous with this team and how hard they've been working. [It] would be special for Maryland to be able to hang another banner or two up in the rafters."

milton.kent@baltsun.com

ACC TOURNAMENT

First round

Yesterday

At Greensboro, N.C.

Georgia Tech 76 Miami 49 Clemson 65 N.C. State 60,OT Boston College 57 Virginia Tech 47 Florida State 57 Wake Forest 52

Quarterfinals

Today

Virginia vs. Georgia Tech 11 a.m. North Carolina vs. Clemson 3 p.m. Maryland vs. Boston College 6 p.m. Duke vs. Florida State 8 p.m.

Semifinals

Tomorrow

Virginia-Georgia Tech winner vs. North Carolina-Clemson winner 1 p.m. Maryland-Boston College winner vs. Duke-Florida State winner 3:30 p.m.

Championship

Sunday

Semifinal winners 1 p.m.

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