The Maryland women's basketball team -- young, confident and precocious -- was brought to earth tonight as second-ranked Tennesse whipped the Terrapins, 93-76, in the quarterfinals of the AIAW tournament.
The Vols are now headed for the final four at Central Michigan. Whenever the Terps mounted a threat, Tennessee was ready with the antidote. At different junctures, Tennessee confounded the Terps with fullcourt presses, deadly outside shooting and, ultimately, domination under the boards.
The Vols shot 53 percent to the Terps' 41 percent. Tennessee outrebounded Maryland, 41-30. The Terps made 30 turnovers.
"We didn't have a good game," said Terp Coach Chris Weller. "I guess Tennessee had a lot to do with it but I didn't feel out of the game until very near the end."
The Terrapins were not out of the game until late, coming back strong on more than one occasion. Down by 13 points in the first Half, the Terps cut that to five at halftime, 42-37.
Maryland seemed ready to continue its surge after intermission, driving within 43-41 two minutes into the second half. Then the Volunteers went to work under the offensive board. Rarely letting fly from outside eight feet the Vols clawed for rebound baskets.
Tennessee all-America Jill Rankin totaled two points in the first half, but quickly scored 10 in the second half. Behind Rankin's play, the Vols gained breathing room at 53-45.
Center Cindy Noble joined Rankin in the fray underneath and Noble moved into position for nine of the Vols' next 13 points. A 59-53 edge suddenly was inflated on 71-55 with 7:44 to go.
A flood of Terrapin turnovers gave the Vols a commanding 79-59 lead with 4:52 remaining. The Terps used a press of their own to force four Tennessee turnovers and score 10 straight points to cut the lead in half with Three minutes left and the 4,120 fans became mildly nervous.
That Maryland press became over-agressive, however. The Terps committed three fouls and the Vols made four of six free throws. A basket off a Terp miscue with a minute left was all the Vols needed to confirm their reservations in Mount Pleasant, Mich.
According to Vol. Coach Pat Head, the blueprint for beating Maryland was conceived after the Terps' victory over Texas Saturday night.
"My assistant coach, Nancy Darsch came back from Baltimore saying, 'Press Maryland full court.' They committed a lot of turnovers and I think our press was responsible for most of the important ones," said Head.
Tennessee's domination under the backboards was all according to plan.
"When Maryland went into the zone defense, we swung our offense over to the strong side," Head explained. "We wanted the ball near (Maryland all-America Kris) Kirchner's side so she would be drawn away from the boards."
While the Tennessee offense was led by clever point guard Holly Warlick, the Volunteer rebounders decided the outcome. With their baskets coming exclusively from the inside, Noble scored 22 points, Rankin 14 and Debbie Groover 14. Warlick scored 18.
In the first half, the Terps did practically everything wrong but clawed back in the last four minutes.
The Vols opened with a full-court press that immediately brought four Terps turnovers. Warlick and backcourt partner Lea Henry bombed from outside to give Tennesee a 14-4 lead four minutes into the game.
Tennessee upped the lead to 28-15 at the 14:55 mark. Center Krystal Kimrey had eight of Maryland's 15 points.
With a makeshift lineup of Kirchner, Lydia McAliley, Debbie Lytle, Myra Waters and seldom-used guard Dana Crone, the Terps settled down and tightened their offense. Tennesee went without a field goal for seven minutes and the gap shrank to 35-31 with three minutes left in the half.
The spark in the rally came from Lytle. The Freshman point guard penetrated the Vol defense for seven points and two assists in the burst. It took a 20-foot bomb at the buzzer by Henry to give the Vols their five-point halftime margin.
"We just got beaten by a better team tonight," Weller said. "I'm very proud of my team. They never gave up. They came back in the first half amd made a run late in the game."
While the Terp players made a quick exit to their hotel, Weller assured them they had nothing to be ashamed of.
In a season that had been billed as one of rebuilding, the Terps finished 21-9 with a guaranteed top-10 ranking.