Coming off her first losing season and having been reprimanded by the NCAA a few weeks ago for a recruiting violation, Chris Weller, the women's basketball coach at the University of Maryland, surely could use some relief.

The perfect remedy could be a victory over national power Southern California. The Trojans (ranked as high as seventh) and three-time all-America Cheryl Miller come to College Park Nov. 29 to play in the Maryland Invitational in what may be the highlight of the season in this area.

"I've really been anxious to get USC in D.C.," said Weller. "I wanted the area to see Cheryl Miller before she graduates. She's an incredible player."

If Maryland does play USC in the final, it might have some trouble since the Terrapins are a young team that "will take some time to jell," said Weller.

Weller brought in a freshman class with good credentials, and some could play early. Subrena Rivers averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds and was named New York's best high school player. Vorna Radovic, from Yugoslavia, passes well and is a good ballhandler. And forward Kaisa Maine, from Finland, is a good shooter.

Senior Chequita Wood, who was the leading scorer (11.9) and rebounder (7.5) last season, will miss most preseason practices because of a knee injury. Another returning starter is 6-foot-5 sophomore center Carolin Dehn-Duhr, who is also a good rebounder.

The Atlantic Coast Conference should be balanced, but Virginia, North Carolina and North Carolina State appear the strongest.

Of Virginia's four starters returning, junior forward Nancy Mayer, who was first-team all-ACC, is the top returning scorer (12.1) and a team leader. Virginia also is adept at the guard position with senior Kim Silloway (second-team all-ACC) and sophomore Donna Holt (school-record 101 assists last season).

In the Colonial Athletic Association, American should challenge East Carolina and James Madison. AU has five starters back and three freshmen who will give depth.

The three key players are junior guard Jody Thornton, sophomore forward Beth Shearer and sophomore center Kia Cooper. Thornton (14.3) and Shearer (13.8) are the conference's leading returning scorers, and Cooper averaged more than nine rebounds.

George Mason, which lost its top three scorers, will need the immediate help of two freshmen to be competitive in the CAA: guards Dayna Scott of Southern High School, selected as the best player in Maryland, and Wanda Williams, twice named the top player in Philadelphia.

George Washington will have formidable opponents in the Atlantic 10 this season: Penn State (No. 5) and St. Joseph's (No. 20).

The Colonials' starting point guard, Julie Brown, transferred, and their leading scorer, Cindy Baruch, left school. But Coach Denise Fiore is hoping sophomore Kas Allen, who was redshirted last season because of a back injury, will match her 22.4-point freshman scoring average. And with Kelly Ballentine, GW's career scoring leader, the Colonials can concentrate on improving their rebounding.

"It would be nice if we had more size," said Fiore. "But we don't and we're going to have to do well without it. One thing we can do is take it to the hoop."

In the Big East, sophomore Beth Knight is Georgetown's best scorer and rebounder.

Howard, which won five of its last six games and the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament, needs to eliminate mistakes (718 turnovers last year) and shoot better (38 percent). A weakness last year was the point guard position, but it could be stronger this season with freshman Yolando Lockamy.