Villanova's women's basketball Coach Harry Peretta received an early Christmas present last night. The Wildcats upset ninth-ranked Maryland, 74-61, at Cole Field House.

"I think this is the best game my kids have played in four years," said Perretta. "Maryland didn't play that bad; they just couldn't score."

The Terrapins will remember this first meeting with Villanova (5-1) for a long time. "We were cold. We couldn't play offense," said Maryland Coach Chris Weller.

Down, 12-3, at 13:54 in the first half, Maryland (5-2) sank four straight jumpers to cut the Wildcat lead to 12-11. One minute later, after a steal by Debbie Lytle (10 points, six rebounds), Lydia McAliley sank a short jumper to give Maryland a 15-14 lead. It was the Terrapins' last lead.

Trailing by 26-20, Maryland couldn't find the basket. With five minutes remaining in the half, the home team missed three consecutive shots on the same play, finally ending the misery with an air ball.

The Wildcats' 5-10 guard, Nancy Bernhardt (19 points), ended the half as impressively as she started it. Bernhardt dribbled the ball at half court until the shot clock registered five seconds. Then she drove the lane for the final shot and the 37-29 Villanova lead.

Maryland opened the second half with a man-to-man defense and a renewed fast-break offense but to no avail. Even with 6-4 center Lisa Ortlip (14 points) on the bench in foul trouble, Villanova's Stephanie Vanderslice (15 points) and Kathie Beisel (12) continued to make the outside jumpers. Vanderslice made a 25-footer with six minutes remaining in the game to give Villanova its biggest lead, 52-38.

"In the back of our minds, we knew they were ninth. But that gave us more to strive for," said Vanderslice.

Jasmina Perazic and Myra Walters (10 rebounds) led Maryland with 12 points each.