The handful of reporters inside Alumni Hall knew where Navy coach Stefanie Pemper was headed when she began describing how the Mids needed to disregard Maryland's national ranking and view the Terrapin women merely as basketball players like themselves.

She was headed straight for a "Hoosiers" moment.

The Terps can be imposing to an overachieving, Patriot League school. So it was incumbent upon Pemper to strip away No. 2-seeded Maryland's power-conference mystique for the No. 15 Mids to have any hope in Saturday's NCAA tournament first round game at Comcast Center.

Pemper said her strategy has been to "humanize" the Terps, who are ranked fifth nationally. "I've already started making out the little mug shots — just getting people familiar with faces and names," she said.

Pemper then paused and smiled. "You saw 'Hoosiers,' right?"

In the movie, the coach of a small, upset-minded Indiana high school team has a player measure the distance from the basket to the floor before the state finals to assure the team that it's the same height as the hoops back home.

Pemper has firsthand knowledge of one of college basketball's biggest upsets. She was a Harvard assistant when the Crimson upset Stanford in 1998, becoming the first and only No. 16 seed to topple a No. 1 in the NCAA tournament — men or women.

Stanford "did have a couple injuries to key players," said Pemper, who is in her fourth season in Annapolis. "That said, they still did have a way more talented team than we had."

Pemper said Harvard tried to surprise Stanford by gambling defensively. She indicated that the Mids (18-13) might try to rattle the Terps (28-4) with some tactics Maryland may not have seen in video of past Navy games. Navy held opponents to 52.3 points per game, ranking 12th in the nation in scoring defense.

"A lot of these [underdog] teams go into these games and they try to do exactly what they've done all year," Pemper said. "When you're this big of an underdog, I just think that's kind of crazy."

The Maryland-Navy winner will play either 10th-seeded Michigan State or seventh-seeded Louisville on Monday at Comcast Center for the right to move on to the regional semifinals in Raleigh, N.C.

As recently as 2007-08, Navy won just seven games. Then Pemper, a former Bowdoin coach known for defensive-minded teams, arrived and went 16-15 in her first season.

"I really didn't know what to expect coming in because I was recruited by someone else, and then I showed up and there was a different face behind the coaching desk," said guard Erin Edwards, the team's lone senior. "From Day One [Pemper] has kind of set the tone and put expectations on us and held us to standards that weren't necessarily here before that."

Navy has had a winning record since Pemper's arrival and has won two straight Patriot League tournament titles, leading to the program's first two trips to the NCAA tournament.

The Mids gathered at Federal House bar and restaurant on Monday night to watch the televised announcement of NCAA matchups. There were hugs and high-fives when the pairings showed that Navy and Maryland would meet for the first time.

"They showed little clips on Maryland, and I hadn't known much about them yet," said sophomore forward Jade Geif, who leads the team in scoring at 11.0 points per game. "I did notice their inside presence."

Maryland presents Navy's biggest challenge since facing DePaul in last season's NCAA tournament first round. DePaul won, 56-43.

A few days after clinching this season's NCAA berth, Navy players still seemed giddy about returning to the tournament for the second time.

"It'll probably be more realistic once we get on the bus to get up there," sophomore forward Audrey Bauer said.

jeff.barker@baltsun.com

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