COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — Despite its displeasure with being a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, fourth-ranked Maryland need only win twice at home this weekend to reach the Sweet 16.
One more victory after that, and the Terrapins could end up facing unbeaten, No. 1 Connecticut for the right to advance to the Final Four.
“If I was them I wouldn’t want to see us, if that plays out,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said Thursday. “On the flip side, I think they were dealt a really difficult bracket for being defending national champions.”
The Terps (30-2) have much to do before making that matchup with UConn a reality, beginning with the tournament opener against No. 14 seed Bucknell (27-5).
In the second game Friday afternoon, No. 6 seed West Virginia (23-10) will face 11th-seeded Elon (27-6).
The sub-regional features four conference tournament champions. Maryland won the Big Ten, Bucknell captured the Patriot League, West Virginia prevailed in the Big 12 Tournament and Elon claimed its first CAA Tournament crown.
“There’s a lot of firepower here, a lot teams and coaches that are used to winning,” Bucknell coach Aaron Roussell said. “I think this is going to be fun.”
It’s tough to beat Maryland in any arena, but the Terrapins are nearly unbeatable on their own floor.
Since Frese took over in 2002, the Terps are 220-35 at home, including 30-11 in the NCAA Tournament.
So, even though Maryland grumbled about being a No. 3 seed, it at least has the advantage of starting the tournament at home.
“Your first goal is try to secure that home seed, be able to host,” Frese said. “To be able to have your fans in your own building has been a huge focus.”
The winners of Friday’s games will meet Sunday.
Some things to know about Friday’s matchups at College Park:
A LONG TIME COMING: It’s the first NCAA Tournament appearance for Elon, which enters with an eight-game winning streak. The North Carolina-based school beat Rutgers and lost close games to North Carolina and Duke. The latter two games convinced the Phoenix they can compete with the best. “Knowing that we were so close to beating those teams without really feeling like that was our best basketball is a good feeling going into this next game,” guard Lauren Brown said.
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT: Bucknell knows all about facing strong teams on the road. The Bison played at Notre Dame last season and this year traveled to North Carolina and Rutgers. “We have not backed down to any challenge,” Roussell said. “I like that we’re playing a really, really good team. I’m pumped,” 6-foot-2 senior Sune Swart said.
LOOKING FOR AN ENCORE: West Virginia is coming off its biggest victory of the year, a 77-66 upset of second-ranked Baylor in the Big 12 title game. “We knew that we had to win one to get in, probably,” coach Mike Carey said. The Mountaineers went 8-10 during the regular season in Big 12, losing twice to Baylor.
STREAKY: Bucknell has a 10-game winning streak and not an ounce of fear about facing Maryland. “It’s a great way to end our senior year. This is what we’ve been working for,” said Claire DeBoer, the Patriot League Player of the Year. “We actually match up pretty well against them, so we’re really looking forward to it.”
HOMECOMING: West Virginia guard Chania Ray, a graduate of Riverdale (Maryland) High, is delighted to finally play a college game in Maryland. “The area is home for me,” she said. “A lot of people couldn’t make it out to West Virginia to come to my games, a lot of players and coaches from high school. I’m excited for a lot of people to come and see me play that haven’t had a chance to.”
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