In a season of ups and downs and a 14-12 record, the University of Maryland women's basketball team is probably wondering which team will show up for this weekend's Atlantic Coast Conference tournament: the one that beat the No. 3 seed, Duke, twice this season, or the team that lost by 26 points to Virginia?

The question has other teams curious, too.

"I've said all along that Maryland is the most dangerous team in the ACC," said Virginia Coach Debbie Ryan, whose Cavaliers are ranked third in the nation with a 25-1 record. "They have excellent talent. The thing is they don't believe in themselves."

Maryland, which has won its last two games over Temple and Duke and is seeded fifth with a 6-8 conference record, will play fourth-seeded North Carolina State (18-9, 9-5 in the ACC) in the first round today at 3 p.m. in Fayetteville, N.C. The Wolfpack, the defending tournament champion, defeated the Terrapins twice this season, 71-55 in Raleigh and 75-51 in College Park.

In other first-round games, top-seeded Virginia will meet No. 8 seed Georgia Tech (10-15, 1-13) at 1, second-seeded North Carolina (20-7, 10-4) plays seventh-seeded Clemson (11-15, 4-10) at 6, and Duke (20-6, 9-5) takes on sixth-seeded Wake Forest (15-12, 4-10) at 8. If Maryland wins, it will play the winner of the Virginia-Georgia Tech game.

Maryland's chances of doing well in the tournament could depend on freshman point guard Deana Tate, its leading scorer with a 15.4 average, being at the top of her game. Tate played 40 minutes and scored 31 points in last Saturday's victory over the Blue Devils. The Terrapins are 9-3 this season in games in which Tate has scored 15 or more points.

The Terrapins will have to keep a close eye on Wolfpack center Trena Trice (18.3 points, 9.6 rebounds), who had 21 points and 18 rebounds against Maryland the last time. The Terrapins will need a strong game from 6-foot-5 sophomore center Carolin Dehn-Duhr (14.3 points, 6.6 rebounds).

"Trice is very important, but it's not just Trice," said Maryland Coach Chris Weller. "We can't double up because Teresa Rouse 9.5 points is really who breaks your back."

Virginia, meanwhile, is virtually guaranteed an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament if it doesn't win this tournament. The Cavaliers have little to worry about in the first round against Georgia Tech, which they have beaten seven straight times, including twice this season by an average of 26 points.

The Cavaliers have won five straight since their only loss of the season, 60-58 to North Carolina. And they have won without leading scorer and starting guard Daphne Hawkins and top reserve Kim Silloway. Hawkins (sprained knee), from High Point High in Beltsville, and Silloway (broken collarbone) are ready to play in the tournament. A player to watch is small forward Nancy Mayer, who had a school-record 33 points Saturday against Clemson and has averaged 23 points the last three games.

North Carolina, ranked 17th, has this season's ACC's player of the year, guard Pam Leake (22.6 points, 5.3 assists and 4.2 steals). But Clemson has split with the Tar Heels this season, winning, 80-65, in Chapel Hill.

Duke should have little trouble with Wake Forest, a team it has beaten twice this season. Forward Chris Moreland (22.7 points, 11.7 rebounds) of Mount Vernon High leads the Blue Devils.