On Sunday, the Maryland women's basketball team routed West Virginia in its second-round NCAA tournament matchup. Not long after, Terps fans realized that finding Sweet 16 tickets in the Bridgeport, Conn., regional was perhaps more of a challenge than the game that had sent them there this weekend.
The NCAA allotted third-seeded Maryland (32-2) 100 tickets to Saturday's game against No. 10 seed Oregon, many of which went to friends and family members connected to the program. With tickets having already sold out — purchased mainly by fans of de facto host Connecticut — and marked-up prices on the secondary market keeping some of the program's most ardent supporters from Webster Bank Arena, Terps coach Brenda Frese on Wednesday called the situation "unfortunate." At this point, she said, there was nothing the NCAA could do.
"I don't think they're worried about me, to be honest," she said, laughing.
Frese didn't know it would be a problem until she heard the lamentations of fans such as Racheal Abraham. The Upper Marlboro resident has faith that this weekend will not be the last of Maryland's season. "In my heart of hearts, I don't see Maryland not making it to the Final Four," she said Tuesday, and yes, she knows that requires a win over the four-time defending champion and top-seeded Huskies.
But what Abraham does not have is a ticket. She'll be at Miller's Ale House in Rockville along with other members of the Rebounders, the program's official support group, for a game-watch event.
Tickets to the Bridgeport regional sold out before the tournament bracket was even unveiled; demand was always going to outstrip supply, especially once Maryland handled the Mountaineers.
The NCAA's initial inventory of tickets, Abraham said, were reasonably priced: $62.50. The cheapest single ticket available for Saturday's regional semifinals on StubHub, as of early Wednesday night, was $150 — more than double the original offering.
"Either you buy the overly inflated tickets," said Abraham, a fan of the team since Frese's arrival who was in Boston for the 2006 national title, "or you end up in Rockville hanging out with the rest of the Rebounders."
The Terps lost just once away from College Park this season, at Big Ten Conference regular-season co-champion Ohio State, and Frese said the team is "used to going on the road, having to take care of business, so that's what we're going to do."
Abraham said the Huskies-heavy crowd could, in a way, be to the Terps' advantage.
"The fact that their fan base can't be there, that's going to make them even more determined," she said. She just wishes she were there to witness it.
Ducks flying high: Frese acknowledged that fans and media alike were probably expecting, and eagerly anticipating, a Duke-Maryland matchup in the Sweet 16. But the Blue Devils, led by former Terps point guard Lexie Brown, fell to Oregon on Monday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Of the 16 teams remaining in the tournament, only No. 12 seed Quinnipiac has a lower seed than the Ducks (22-13, 8-10). But few rosters have as bright a future as Oregon's.
The Ducks start three freshmen: 6-foot-5 Mallory McGwire, the niece of former MLB All-Star Mark McGwire; Ruthy Hebard, the team's leading scorer and rebounder; and Sabrina Ionescu, espnW's national freshman of the year. Despite finishing below .500 in Pac-12 Conference play, they advanced to the league tournament semifinals and upset No. 7 seed Temple in the NCAA tournament before taking out Duke.
"Just a physical, aggressive team, inside-out, and every position can score," Frese said. "So it's a team that's not going to make mistakes on their own and they won't beat themselves, so you're going to have to come in and be able to take that game."
Not looking ahead: Maryland and UConn are expected to meet Monday in the Elite Eight, but looking ahead got the Terps in trouble last year. A second-round loss to Washington at Xfinity Center ended their season prematurely, bumping them off a relatively comfortable path to the national championship game and a possible rematch with the Huskies.
With UConn's winning streak at 109 games and Maryland having given the Huskies a good game in College Park in late December, center Brionna Jones was asked about focusing on the task at hand, even as the one just beyond looms impossibly large.
"I think we've done a good job with it all year," the Aberdeen graduate said. "In the Big Ten tournament, we had to focus on one game at a time, because we had some tough matchups with Michigan State and Minnesota before we got to the final game. So I think we've done a good job of staying locked in to the game."