For the University of Maryland, the dream began to fade about 10:30 tonight, and within 30 minutes hopes for a national basketball championship were nothing more than memories.
Cheyney State, which had beaten the Terrapins in January, defeated Coach Chris Weller's team, 76-66, in the semifinals of the first NCAA women's championship. Cheyney's first trip to the final four ends Sunday afternoon when the Wolves play No. 1-ranked Louisiana Tech, which beat Tennessee, 69-46, in tonight's opening game.
Cheyney dominated Maryland from the first tipoff and held the Terrapins' top scorer, Jasmina Perazic, to two points in the first half. But Maryland countered by keeping Cheyney's high scorer, Valerie Walker, to just two for 10 shooting, which Cheyney Coach Vivian Stringer called Walker's poorest effort in years.
Earlier in the week, Weller had expressed concern about Cheyney's zone. "They do that so very well," she said. "And tonight we just didn't have enough penetration to draw that defense off."
Maryland did force the Wolves into a running game, which Stringer says is something "Cheyney can do, but doesn't like to." However, although the Terrapins managed to stay within two points of the Wolves throughout much of the first period, Maryland committed 12 turnovers.
"I can't decide if it was their defense or our offense. That is, our failure on offense," Weller said, frowning. "There were chances for us to take that ball, and I don't know, maybe we just didn't see them."
Cheyney took control in the first half despite playing tentatively. Stringer said the shaky play resulted from first-time jitters.
"And Maryland did a lot of things right," she said. "Which is what caused us to be a little off."
Indeed, Cheyney was so far off that it shot 35.6 percent from the floor in the first half and led by only two, 35-33, at intermission.
But the Wolves took command in the second half. Walker, anxious to make up for her poor first-half performance, ended with 20 points and nine rebounds. Walker was four for four from the foul line in the second half.
Although Perazic had tied the score at 35 on her first shot of the second half, Maryland was ineffective against Cheyney's zone.
The Wolves had 12 steals, which Weller bluntly said resulted from "a drastic breakdown of our game." Weller, who had taken the 1978 Maryland team into the final four only to be defeated by UCLA, then added, "We also made a few very foolish passes."
At one point during the second period, Cheyney increased its lead to 10, and held Maryland scoreless for nearly nine minutes. Weller said later that she had thought about calling a timeout when the lead stood at only six points, but instead "gambled badly."
Maryland was never able to get into the game after that.
Cheyney had appeared hesitant about the zone during the first half, but muscled the Terrapins almost off the court in the second. "We like to be able to run," said Weller. "But they just wouldn't let us."
Debbie Lytle, who was high scorer with 14 points, said she was lucky to get that many. "Usually we try to get the ball to Jas (Perazic) or Marsha (Richardson), our big scorers," she said. "But tonight they just weren't open, and the ball came on my hands."
Maryland doesn't even have a chance to regain some pride in a consolation game against Tennessee. The NCAA has no games for the third- and fourth-place finishers.
Sunday's noon championship game at the Scope, which will be carried by CBS-TV, is a sellout.
Weller is already looking ahead to next year. "Last year we were excited to make the final eight," she said. "Now this was another step for us with basically the same group of kids. We're getting there."