For the last three years, the final eight has been the final stop for the University of Maryland women's basketball team.
Not this year.
Today at Stanford's Maple Pavilion, Maryland's starting five was in double figures as the seventh-ranked Terrapins defeated No. 19 Drake, 89-78, in the NCAA West Regional final.
And Maryland did it despite a school-record 50 points by Drake's 6-foot-3 sophomore center Lorri Bauman.
This is the first year for the NCAA's Division I women's tournament. Now for the first time since losing the AIAW championship game to host UCLA in 1978, Maryland will advance to the final four of a national tournament. The Terrapins will play No. 2 Cheyney State March 26 at Norfolk in one semifinal. No. 8 Tennessee will play top-ranked Louisiana Tech, last year's AIAW champion, in the other semifinal.
Jasmina Perazic (20 points), Myra Waters (19) and Debbie Lytle (18) were named to the all-regional team. Today, Belinda Pearman (13 points) and Marcia Richardson (11) joined them on the double-figure team.
"The final four--that's classic," said Maryland Coach Chris Weller, breaking into a smile. "Every year we get to the final eight. People in our area expect that. We really haven't gotten the recognition we deserve."
After overcoming a 23-21 deficit with a 14-2 run near the end of the first half, certainly Maryland got the fate it deserved today. Pearman, Perazic and Lydia McAliley all scored four points in the spree that gave Maryland a 33-25 lead. Drake never got within six after that.
"Truthfully," confided Bauman, voted the most outstanding player in this regional, "we knew it was over then. At least I did."
Bauman's honesty was matched only by her shooting: she was 21 for 35 from the field, eight of 11 from the foul line. After the Terrapins took a 66-50 lead with 11 minutes left, Bauman scored eight straight points. It was both 66-58 and somewhat interesting for the 250 fans.
But Perazic took to the outside, Waters and Pearman to the inside, and the lead was 87-70 with two minutes to play. Bauman was alone, no companion in double figures.
Consequently, Drake went the same way to the offseason as Missouri, which lost to Maryland, 80-68, in the regional semifinal Friday night.
"An interesting strategy by not sagging on Bauman," Drake Coach Carole Baumgarten said, shaking her head for her 28-7 Bulldogs from Des Moines.
"I just kept holding on to her," said Pearman, who was cited for three of the 15 fouls that Bauman caused Maryland to commit. "She kept getting in front of me."
Richardson, the garrulous sophomore guard, said: "Personally, the 50 points will look good for her. But we're going to the final four."
No player remains from the 1978 Maryland runners-up, only Weller, the coach. "This one is more gratifying, though," she said. "This team has withstood more pressure."
The pressure will intensify. Maryland has lost to all three final four teams this season, including a 67-51 loss to Cheyney State in College Park. The Terrapins, for all of their 25-6 record, don't really care about that right now.
"This is my last year; I have to see what the final four is like," said Waters, whose 1,412 points are only 13 shy of Kris Kirchner's Maryland career scoring record.
Lytle, both talkative and terrific today, wanted to run this thought through any doubter's mind like she ran the break today through Drake's defense. The junior forward said: "We've worked hard for this. We deserve the final four."