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Hopeful fans follow Terps to Tampa for Final Four

TAMPA, FLA. — The Maryland women's basketball team's run to their second straight Final Four might not have been expected given their youth, but Terps fans still held out hope for a repeat trip to the national semifinals.

Season-ticket holders Mike and Linda Hund of Ellicott City went to Nashville, Tenn., to watch the Terps play in last year's Final Four. Despite the loss to Notre Dame in a national semifinal, they made a pact with their friend, Bonnie Miller of Hagerstown.

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"As soon as we left Nashville last year, we told each other if they make it to the Final Four this year, we're going," Linda Hund said outside Tampa's Amalie Arena before the Terps faced Connecticut in Sunday night's national semifinal. "We didn't want to make our reservations early and jinx them so Monday night at 11:30 we were on the phone making our reservations."

The Terps didn't bring the following that UConn — or even South Carolina and Notre Dame — brought to Tampa, but Maryland fans were still eager to watch their team play more than 900 miles from home.

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"It was very important because we wanted to show our support," said Yvette Williams of Waldorf, who attended the games with her husband Tyrone. "We were watching the [regional semifinal and final] games in Spokane, Wash., and we saw the huge fan base that went out there. … So if people can go to Spokane, we can come to Tampa. This is a lot easier to get to."

Wendy Andrews and Deirdre Smith of Burtonsville purchased tickets to the Final Four when they first went on sale back in November not knowing whether Maryland would make it. They would have attended regardless, wearing their Maryland shirts.

"I think Maryland has a good shot," Smith said. "It's going to be a really good game. I have a good feeling about it all. They're young, but sometimes that better."

After losing all-time leading scorer Alyssa Thomas to graduation, the young Terps started the season 6-2 before winning 28 straight games with a starting lineup featuring three sophomores — guard Lexie Brown, guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and center Brionna Jones (Aberdeen) — and just one senior, Laurin Mincy.

"One good thing about this year is that it's been a total team effort," said Miller, who wore a scarf in the design of a Maryland state flag. "We don't have one star. Everybody picks each other up. It's such a young team."

Larry Butera and his daughters Grace and Hannah — all of West Friendship — were already spending spring break in Florida when they decided to extend their stay after Maryland beat Tennessee in the regional final.

"I'm not surprised they're here because they're such a good team," said Hannah, a freshman at Glenelg. "We thought we were going home three days ago, so this is cool."

"I'm a little more surprised," said Grace, a sophomore at Glenelg. "I didn't think they'd be as good, but it's fun to be able to come down here. From the Elite Eight, we were just hoping they'd win so we could come down here and extend the trip."

Once the Maryland fans entered Amalie Arena, they realized they were outnumbered by UConn fans, and pregame introductions made it clear the Huskies' crowd was larger and louder.

But Terps fans were inspired by an upset the day before in the men's tournament, when Wisconsin defeated previously unbeaten Kentucky in the national semis.

"We're happy to be here," Yvette Williams said. "Hopefully Maryland can step up and beat UConn. Look what happened to Kentucky last night. We would have bet the farm that Kentucky would have won it."

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