The University of Maryland women's basketball team has spent the last three years watching the national tournament finals. This time around, it is playing for a shot at the NCAA Division I title.
Maryland, the West Regional champion, will play Cheyney State here Friday in a semifinal game at 9 p.m. (WMUC-FM 88.9, a limited range college station). Tennessee faces No. 1-ranked Louisiana Tech, last year's AIAW champion, in the 7 o'clock opener. This is the first year of the NCAA women's tournament.
"I'm not at all surprised to be here," said Terrapin Coach Chris Weller. "We thought all year we'd be around, but I did begin to wonder a bit when we had some injuries."
One injury in particular was cause for concern. In January, Jasmina Perazic tore cartilage in her right knee. "That's her shooting leg of course, and she's a shooter," said Weller. "But we're all healthy right now."
The Terrapins' 25-6 record includes losses to all three of the other final four entries. Cheyney State visited College Park and came away with a 67-51 victory, but Weller is not thinking about that at the moment.
"We'll all look at the Cheyney film tomorrow (Friday)," she said. "I've seen it already. No, I don't anticipate any changes on their part. At least they haven't indicated anything different so far. My guess is that they'll stick with that zone defense they play so well."
Cheyney State, 28-2 with losses to Rutgers and Old Dominion, has senior forward Val Walker, who is averaging nearly 22 points a game.
For Maryland and the other teams, today was a light practice day, with perhaps an hour spent on the court at The Scope arena here.
"We spent the early part of the week breaking down to basics," said Weller. "We're not at a point where we can, or want to, change anything. On Wednesday, we scrimmaged against a men's intramural team, but we're not doing anything really different. I just want them (the players) to be relaxed enough. Emotionally and mentally, I think they are right where they need to be. They're excited, proud to be here and not afraid of anything."
Tennessee now has made it to the final four for the fifth time. In 1980 and 1981, the Volunteers finished second. Last year, they were beaten by undefeated Louisiana Tech in the AIAW championship game at Eugene, Ore. Tennessee and Tech have met once this year with Tech the winner, 72-64. But, as the pretournament media booklets point out, Tennessee did beat the only team to defeat Tech this season, Old Dominion.
Louisiana Tech warmed up early in the playoffs by outrebounding its opponents, 136-83. Coach Sonja Hogg's team cruised through the Midwest Regional, beating Tennessee Tech, 114-53; Arizona State, 92-54, and Kentucky, 80-62. About the only thing Tech did not do this year was duplicate its perfect 1981 season. This time it finished only 33-1.
But Weller didn't want to discuss the other teams, only Friday night's game.
"Every year we make it to the final eight," she said. "People have come to expect that of us." Consequently, Weller feels the Terrapins have not received the recognition they deserve. "All season, we've been pointed at this one," she said. "We're ready."
In 1978, Maryland, under Weller's tutelage, did reach the final four, losing the championship game to UCLA. None of the players from that team remain, but Weller certainly remembers.
And the present players don't seem to need reminders. Senior Myra Waters, who scored 19 points in Sunday's victory over Drake, said last week, "This is my last year here. I've just got to see what the final four is all about." And Debbie Lytle, the speedy junior forward, keeps saying over and over, "We really deserve this. We've worked so hard for it. We really do deserve it."
Although this is the first NCAA women's championship, none of the players or coaches involved seem to attach much significance to the shift from the AIAW, which still has its version of a national championship. Everybody here is interested only in taking home a title, no matter whose initials are on it.