The Maryland Terrapins women's basketball team has won 28 straight games, qualifying for their second straight Final Four appearance after defeating such opponents as Tennessee by 10 points on Monday and previously undefeated Princeton by an even greater margin one week earlier. Under most circumstances, sports writers would be predicting a march to a national championship, but there's just one catch.
For those who don't follow women's basketball — and poor unfortunate souls they are if they have ignored the perennially-excellent Terrapins under Coach Brenda Frese — the Huskies dominate the sport in the way that the UCLA men's squad racked up national championships under John Wooden in the 1960s and '70s or the New York Yankees collected World Series victories eight decades ago with some guys named Ruth and Gehrig.
Connecticut women's basketball under Coach Geno Auriemma has easily been the most dominant franchise of any major sport, college or professional, men's or women's, in recent years. His teams have won nine national titles since 1994 including the last two. The biggest hole facing his program is the distinct lack of adequate superlatives in the English language to throw their way. They are just that good. No, wait, they're better than that.
The University of Kentucky men's basketball team favored to win their version of the Final Four is sometimes mentioned as a near-NBA quality outfit. And yes, they're pretty respectable for an undefeated men's team, but the UConn women have been there, done that with perfect seasons. The Huskies have beaten their opponents by an average of 41.9 points this year. The Kentucky men? Their margins of victory have been almost exactly half of that.
Las Vegas oddsmakers have Connecticut favored by 23 points against the Terps. That's twenty-three points! That's not a victory, that's a massacre, but it's hard to escape the logic since UConn has been serving up such butchery all season. In the squad's last game, they beat the University of Dayton by only 21 (only!), but that's probably because Dayton was leading at halftime thanks to scorching-hot shooting, a sizzling display the Flyers couldn't maintain.
So yes, the Terrapins could easily show up at 8:30 p.m. Sunday at Amalie Arena in Tampa and recreate the round ball equivalent of "The Charge of the Light Brigade" knowing the kind of firepower they'll be facing. But these turtles seem to be made of sterner stuff and not just because of a talented backcourt of Lexie Brown, Laurin Mincy and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough but because, like UConn, they are a balanced team that doesn't rely on one player to carry the load.
Connecticut is capable of misfiring. They lost to Stanford early in the season. It took a complete game by Stanford's players, some well-timed scoring — and an overtime period — but the Cardinals ended what had been a 47-game win streak by the Huskies. And that was not a dominant Stanford team; it was a fourth seed in the NCAA Tournament, not a No. 1 seed like Maryland.
Not many expect the Terps to pull this one out, and that could be an advantage. The pressure isn't on them, it's on the program that has to compete against its own formidable legacy. Think Coach Frese won't have her players in a suitable frame of mind? She had them thinking they were underdogs against Princeton, a team Ms. Mincy nearly dismantled all by herself, scoring 27 points in the team's 85-70 victory.
The Ravens season is long since passed and contemplating off-season NFL signings is the spectator equivalent of watching paint dry. Quick, can you name the position played by the Ravens' Kiero Small? Maybe if you're a Cardinal Gibbons fan. Try fullback. The Orioles, the defending American League East champions, are back this weekend, but professional baseball is a long season that starts its 162-game meandering Monday but doesn't really get interesting until mid-summer.
That leaves the Terps, a 34-2 team making its second straight Final Four appearance. They ought to be the toast of Maryland right now, but they clearly don't get the attention of the men in their own home state. That's a shame, not so much for a program that already commands respect nationwide but for all those local sports fans who have no idea what they're missing. Go Lexie, Laurin, Shatori, Brionna, Tierney, Brene, Malina, Kiara, A'Lexus, Kirsten, Chloe and Aja. Go Terps.