Boston — Maryland basketball coach Brenda Frese always has been one of the regulars around the Women's Final Four.
Not like Tennessee's Pat Summitt or Connecticut's Geno Auriemma, two Hall of Famers who nearly have made an annual sideline appearance at this event over the last decade until now. She's been in the crowd.
"I'd sit in the stands," Frese reminisced Saturday. "I always got teary-eyed when I thought that I would have the opportunity to coach a team and be able to bring them here."
Frese's dream now is a reality. Her Maryland squad is one of the ingredients that has transformed Boston's special tea party into an Atlantic Coast Conference extravaganza.
The Terrapins (32-4) will meet ACC rival North Carolina (33-1) in a national semifinal at 6 tonight (ESPN) at the TD Banknorth Garden before Duke (30-3) meets Southeastern Conference party-crasher Louisiana State (31-3) in the second game.
The championship will be Tuesday night, with the WNBA draft to follow the next day at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.
The LSU Tigers have become regulars, hoping that their third straight appearance will send senior Seimone Augustus on to the pros with an NCAA title.
Maryland, which played in the first Women's Final Four in 1982, has not been to this level since 1989. Although the Terrapins roster is dominated by youth, Frese's bunch refutes the concept that their appearance here is like George Mason's shot to notoriety in the men's tournament.
"Who thought that?" challenged junior point guard Shay Doron. "Not in our locker room. We think that not only we're not the underdogs, but ... we could have probably gotten the number-one seed."
The Tar Heels, under veteran coach Sylvia Hatchell, and the Terrapins are two teams built on speed. North Carolina's junior guard Ivory Latta, the United States Basketball Writers' Association player of the year, gives the same emotional edge that Diana Taurasi used to provide for Connecticut, which has been missing from this event since her graduation in 2004.
"I'm out there having fun and I'm going to keep doing it," Latta said. "My little dances, my smiles, my anything, I'm just going to have fun out there."
LSU and Duke are two teams loaded with Final Four frustrations. The Tigers fell to Tennessee in the semifinals two years ago in the last seconds off a turnover. They returned last season, only to blow a 15-point lead to eventual champion Baylor.
Duke, which has Laura Kurz off the bench, has also had Final Four miseries, losing to Purdue in the 1999 title game and to Oklahoma and Tennessee in semifinals in 2002 and 2003.
But coach Gail Goestenkors, whose team advanced by edging Connecticut, 63-61, in the Bridgeport Regional title game, has strengthened her bench and the Blue Devils post play with such players as 6-7 junior center Alison Bales, 6-0 senior Monique Currie, and 6-3 senior Mistie Williams.