The first Atlantic Coast Conference women's basketball tournament beginning tonight in Charlottesville, Va., should be the highlight of the Maryland season but coach Chris Weller insists "It's just another three games."

"This is more of a prestigious thing. It doesn't mean anything as far as the nationals are concerned," said Weller, whose second-seeded Terps (6-1) open the tourney against seventh-seeded Duke (0-6) at 5. "We don't want to peak now. We have a long way to go."

The ACC tourney comes at a rather awkward time but Weller feels "the tournament "should give us excellent experience for the nationals.

The Terrapins (13-1) should not have any tourble being selected one of the 16 teams to play for the AIAW title to UCLA in March or advancing to the final of the ACC tourney.

Maryland blasted Duke, 117-47, during the regular season. Its one loss was to No. 2-ranked and top-seeded North Carolina State (19-1), 90-78, two games ago.

"We would like to meet them again but we have to win the first two games first," said Weller. "It'll be an interesting challenge. We don't want to be down coming out of this because we go to St. Joseph's (ranked 10th) Tuesday. They're one of the teams we'll have to beat out on the East Coast."

Freshman Betsy Bailey, the ACC's leading field goal shooter (61 percent) is the Terp's leading scorer with a 14.6 average. Jane Zivalich (12.4), Tara Heiss (11.7), Kris Krichner (11.1) and Debbie Stewart (10.2) also are averaging double figures for high-scoring Maryland. Debbie Jones (7.1) is slated to start in place of Stewart against Duke.

Following the Duke-Maryland contest, Clemson (4-2, 14-7) plays host Virginia (1-5, 4-12) at 7 and North Carolina (3-3, 9-7) meets Wake Forest (2-4, 8-8) at 9.

North Carolina State, which received a first-round bye, takes on the winner of the N.C. Wake Forest game at 7 p.m. Friday in one semifinal. The winner of the Maryland-Duke and Clemson-Virginia games will meet at 9 p.m. in other seminal.

The final will be held Saturday at 2 p.m.

N.C. State, with only a 70-65 loss to No. 3 Tennessee this season, boasts 6-foot-2 sophomore center Genia Beasley (19.0 points and 10-6 rebounds per game) and two freshmen Trudi Lacy (10.1 ppg) and Ginger Rouse (8), The Washington Post high school player of the year two seasons.

Donna Forester of Clemson is the ACC's leading scorer and rebounder, averaging 21.2 points and 11.7 rebounds.