The University of Maryland women's basketball players sat together in the bleachers, a clique by the court.

The Terrapins had defeated Missouri, 80-68, earlier Friday night. As they watched No. 19 Drake defeat No. 4 Long Beach State, 91-78, setting up a Maryland-Drake NCAA West Regional final for Sunday at 4:30 p.m. EST, that question kept coming up.

Drake? It sounded more like a piece of cake than a power.

"I think they're from Illinois," said sophomore guard Marcia Richardson. Somebody in the middle of the crowd thought aloud, "Maybe they're from Indiana."

Three bleacher rows and one clipboard north, Maryland Coach Chris Weller nodded between notes. "They're from Iowa," she said. "I'm not calling this an upset. The rankings might call it one, but I'm not."

Then, Weller echoed the majority opinion in this West Regional at Stanford's Maples Pavilion, saying of the Drake Bulldogs, "I'm impressed."

Indeed, with sophomore center Lorri Bauman getting 26 points and 11 rebounds, Drake was impressive against Long Beach State.

But the Bulldogs have been impressive all year, going 28-6 and winning the Missouri Valley Conference title. Bauman, already her school's No. 3 scorer, averaged 22.5 points a game, 14 in the NCAA tournament, and shot 83.7 percent from the free throw line, seventh-best in the tournament.

But as far as the rankings people were concerned, Drake still was nowhere.

"Somebody has got to start looking at Midwest teams," said Drake Coach Carole Baumgarten. "It's irritating. Not being ranked all year has been annoying. Then, after being ranked 19th in the last poll, even after making the final 16 . . ."

Baumgarten did not need to finish. Her team does not get fame. But now it does get Maryland, No. 7 in the nation. The winner goes to the final four in Norfolk, Va., March 26-28.

The Terrapins (24-6) expected to play Long Beach State. "You should have seen Long Beach strutting around the hotel lobby," said Richardson. "You know how those West Coast teams are, all that funk."

Instead, Drake will be the last barrier between Maryland and its first appearance in the final four since losing the 1978 AIAW championship game to host UCLA. (This is the first year the NCAA has conducted a women's basketball championship tournament.) The last three years, the Terrapins stopped here: the final eight.

"Jinx?" said Richardson, cool on the court and in conversation. "They talked about Rutgers' home court streak this year and we beat that (69-66) on Jan. 30. We can win this."

Throughout the year, all five Maryland starters have averaged double-figure scoring. Against Missouri, Jasmina Perazic (21), Myra Waters (18), Belinda Pearman (13), Richardson (11) and Debbie Lytle (11) continued that habit.

Now, the only habit to break is that psychological half-court trap known as the final eight.