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COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — Ranked No. 4 in the country after going 30-2 and being crowned Big Ten champions for a third consecutive year, Maryland was stunned and disappointed to receive a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
As if that wasn't insulting enough, the Terrapins' path the Final Four is impeded by potential matchups with Big 12 champion West Virginia, still-hated No. 2 seed Duke and yes, unbeaten and top-seeded UConn.
That's a pretty harsh sentence for a team that swept through the schedule with only a couple of missteps: an 87-81 loss to Connecticut and a defeat on the road against Ohio State, which ended up sharing the regular season Big Ten title with Maryland.
Terps coach Brenda Frese, her players, friends, family and fans gathered at the team's home arena Monday night to watch the selection show. Upon learning of Maryland's fate, Frese forced a smile and shrugged her shoulders.
"I'm not sure I've ever seen from the men's or the women's side, a team ranked top 4 in the country receive a 3 seed," Frese said. "You know what? It's not going to help you win or lose a game. We've got to go out and put our best foot forward."
Frese has led the Terrapins to seven Sweet 16 appearances, three Final Fours and the 2006 national championship. Past performances evidently meant nothing to the selection committee, which weighed far more heavily Maryland's soft non-conference schedule. With the exception of December matchups against UConn and Louisville (now ranked 13th), the Terrapins' slate before Big Ten play included the likes of Towson, UMass Lowell, Niagara and Saint Peter's.
"I understand non-conference component, but it's never been weighted 100 percent," Frese said. "We had no bad losses, we had 30 wins, we won the (Big Ten) regular season, we won the tournament. I know the committee has a difficult job, but I think that three-seed kind of took a life of its own during the season and kind of played out as such.
"It's disappointing because we felt like we controlled our destiny, and what we did was win."
The Terrapins are seeded behind Duke, their former rival in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Blue Devils (27-5) are coming off a 23-point loss to Notre Dame in the ACC title game.
"You can only control what you can control," Maryland center Brionna Jones said. "We did what we came to do, win the Big Ten, and now we're just focused on winning the national championship. We're fired up, no matter who we play."
Maryland opens the tournament at home Friday against Patriot League champion Bucknell. If the Terps prevail, they will next face the winner of the Elon-West Virginia game. WVU enters the tournament coming off an upset of Baylor, ending the Bears' run of six consecutive Big 12 championships. That loss didn't prevent Baylor from receiving the top seed in the Oklahoma City Regional.
If Maryland advances, a potential Sweet 16 matchup with Duke follows. Then UConn.
"It's a very difficult bracket," Frese said. "You can't sugarcoat what it is."
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