SPOKANE, WASH. — A season that began with high expectations for the Maryland men's basketball team will continue in a place the Terps haven't been to in 13 years: the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16.
With a 73-60 victory Sunday over No. 13 seed Hawaii at Spokane Arena, fifth-seeded Maryland advanced to Thursday's South region semifinals in Louisville, Ky. The Terps, one of 16 teams remaining from the original 68-team field, will face the tournament's overall No. 1 seed, Kansas, at the KFC Yum Center.
The last time Maryland reached the Sweet 16 was in 2003, a year after its only national championship.
At Mother's in Federal Hill on Sunday night, the cheers grew as the clock wound down: "Sweet Six-teen! Sweet Six-teen!"
Hands slapped tables. Shots were ordered. And Mary Nachimson, a 2010 Maryland graduate, sighed in relief. "The first half of the game, they made me nervous. The second half, they pulled it together," she said.
"They really got to get more consistent on offense if they expect to beat Kansas," said Brandon Bicknese, a 2008 Maryland graduate.
John Vernon considered the next matchup. "Yikes," he said. "They can't miss a beat."
The Terps' record is 27-8; Kansas is 32-4.
Vernon, a 60-year-old attorney from Severna Park, said he's been really enjoying the season. He went to his first game in years, since the Terps played in the old Cole Field House. And his daughter is a sophomore at Maryland. "They've got a lot of talent," he said. "When they're on, they're one of the best."
The hype for this Maryland team began last summer, when the additions of transfers Rasheed Sulaimon and Robert Carter Jr., along with top recruit Diamond Stone's arrival, made coach Mark Turgeon's team one of the favorites to win the national championship in Houston.
After beginning the season ranked No. 3 nationally, behind the two winningest programs, by percentage, in college basketball history — North Carolina and Kentucky — the Terps got off to the best start in program history.
"Expectations were crazy from the beginning," Carter, who played his first two seasons at Georgia Tech, said Saturday. "We were already confident, but it gave us more confidence in ourselves for other people to think that we were really good.
"From the beginning, we wanted to focus on this group and this locker room and not looking too much about what the media says about us. It could make us feel more about ourselves than we actually are."
But after star guard Melo Trimble hit a long, buzzer-beating 3-pointer at Wisconsin on Jan. 9 to give Maryland its 15th victory in 16 games, the Terps did not look like a dominant or confident team.
After getting to 22-3 and reaching No. 2 in the national rankings, Maryland lost four of its next six games and five of eight, including an embarrassing 68-63 defeat at Minnesota on Feb. 18. Until that night, the Golden Gophers had not won a Big Ten Conference game this season.
Once considered the favorite to win the Big Ten regular-season title in its second year in the league, Maryland finished tied for third, three games behind first-place Indiana.
Trimble acknowledged this weekend that the Terps might have been caught up in their own hype and might not have worked or played as hard as they did last season, when Maryland won a school-record 26 regular-season games despite not having as talented a team.
Asked what the difference was, Trimble said: "Getting caught up in ourselves and being humble, I guess. … We just lived in the hype and let everyone tell us that we were really good instead of just focusing on what we needed to get better on, especially our defense."
After showing signs of coming out of a late-season funk during the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis — they scored a tournament-record 97 points in a win over Nebraska before losing narrowly in a defensive struggle to eventual champion Michigan State — the Terps built on that momentum in the Pacific Northwest.
Playing in the same arena where Maryland lost to Michigan State on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in the second round of the 2010 NCAA tournament, the Terps gave Turgeon one of the most significant victories of his career and perhaps the biggest since he took over for Hall of Fame coach Gary Williams in 2011. It's the second time in his 18-year career that Turgeon, 51, has taken a team to the Sweet 16.
Ironically, Turgeon now will face a storied program of which he was once a part. As the starting point guard at Kansas during his junior year, Turgeon helped the Jayhawks reach the 1986 Final Four in Dallas. He was later a graduate assistant under Larry Brown on the 1988 Kansas team that won the national championship.
Turgeon, who signed an eight-year deal worth more than $2 million annually when Williams retired in May 2011, has been criticized by fans and in the media for what some believed to be an underwhelming season.
"It's been a challenging year," Turgeon said during a pretournament news conference last week. "The expectations were pretty high, and we lost [guard] Dion [Wiley] and the expectations didn't seem to change. We handled it early, we were 22-3, and then down the stretch, we weren't the same team for a while."
The victories here over No. 12 seed South Dakota State and No. 13 seed Hawaii in the first and second round, respectively, have kept the Terps in contention for their third Final Four appearance.
"Our goal is to win the national championship, and it would be disappointing not to make it," Carter said Saturday. "We can't focus on the Final Four right now. We have to focus on the round of 32, then the Sweet 16, the Elite Eight and then the Final Four. We think we have enough talent to get there."
Baltimore Sun reporter Tim Prudente contributed to this article.
An earlier version of this story said that Mark Turgeon was a graduate assistant under Roy Williams when Kansas won the national championship in 1988. The Kansas coach was Larry Brown. The Sun regrets the error.