Today, more than 24 hours before Maryland plays its first game in the NCAA Mideast Regional tournament, Coach Lefty Driesell's game face was firmly in place.

The man clearly was itching to send his Terps out against Tennessee-Chattanooga Thursday at 9:38 p.m. (WRC-TV-4).

When Greg Manning and Dutch Morley were a little late reaching the hotel lobby before the team went to eat, Driesell angrily dispatched a search party. "We gotta get going," he said. "We gotta eat and get out to practice."

When a local reporter asked if he might ride the team bus to the meal and practice, Driesell raacted as if he had been asked for his game plan.

"No way," he said, shaking his head vehemently. "Look, they pay me to coach and win ball games. That's all I came here to do. This ain't the time to be talking to reporters, or anyone else for that matter."

When asked if he was uptight, the coach shook his head. "I'm just ready," he said. "Really ready."

The Terps (20-9) are favored against the little-known Moccasins (21-8), but are not expected to survive beyond a Saturday meeting with Indiana.

Should they advance to that game, the Terps know they will be underdogs, but that doesn't bother them. In fact, this is a team that plays better as an underdog.

"I'd love to play them (the Hoosiers), guard Reggie Jackson said today. "Isiah Thomas, tough player, no doubt. But I think it would be fun to play against him."

As a group, the Terrapins are resolute about their mission here. Center Buck Williams already has declared the season a failure if Maryland does not reach the final four. Albert King went further today.

"The first thing we're shooting for is the final four," he said. "But once you get there, losing would hurt even more. If you're that close,then you really want to win it."

Whether the Terps will emerge from this marathon as a smiling Cinderella or a scowling ugly sister will depend a great deal on whether King shows up to play the handsome prince.

It has been a roller coaster season for King. He took only 11 shots and scored two points in the second half of the 61-60 ACC tournament final loss to North Carolina Saturday.

"You can't just say the whole game is wanting the ball," King said. "But I certainly know I have to look to get open and look to get shots. I would think, to have a good game, I need to take in the area of 16 to 20 shots. I can't be forcing shots, though. I have to get good ones."

Actually, it may be time for King to begin forcing shots, or at least to demand the ball from his teammates more often. Driesell said today he would like King to shoot about 18 times a game. "As far as I'm concerned, he can take 50 shots if they're there," he said.

The Terps all know, as Williams put it, that "this is the last chance for redemption this season." For the last two months, ever since it became apparent that Virginia was going to dominate the ACC regular season this year, the Terps have pointed to this tournament, saying this is what they have worked for all season, anyway.

Tennesee-Chattanooga, the first opponent, is a smallish team led by 6-foot-4 forward Eric Smith, who averaged 17.2 points a game. Chattanooga also has a good freshman point guard in 6-3 Willie White and is about the same size as Maryland up front.

The Moccasins will try to keep the score in the 60s by playing at a steady though not slow pace. "We know we don't have the speed or size to run with them," Coach Murray Arnold said.

Driesell will try to play a man-to-man defense as much as possible, with Ernest Gaham likely to guard Smith. "They're the kind of team we should beat, if we go in with the right attitude," Driesell said.