Thomas eager to excel for Maryland in Final Four

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) -- Years from now, Alyssa Thomas will look back with pride at all she accomplished on a personal level at Maryland. The 6-foot-2 senior forward has scored more points than any player in school history, man or woman. Thomas is a three-time Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year, a two-time All-American and has her name and No. 25 hanging from the rafters of her home arena. None of that, however, compares to the feeling of heading to the Final Four for the first time. ''This ranks as the best thing that's happened in my career,'' Thomas said Thursday, shortly before the Terrapins (28-6) left for Tennessee, where they will face unbeaten Notre Dame (36-0) on Sunday night for the right to play for the NCAA women's basketball championship. Ever since she arrived at Maryland as a shy freshman, Thomas has been all about winning. The accolades she received for her all-around play were secondary to helping the Terrapins dispatch the opposition, and that is why before this month her favorite moment at Maryland was winning the ACC title in 2012. ''She's never even talked about setting records since I've known her,'' Terps senior guard Katie Rutan said. ''She doesn't know about records until she's told. She's not chasing those. She's chasing victories. While those are great things that come along with it, that's not something Alyssa has ever chased. This moment - going to the Final Four - is what she's been chasing. I'm so happy she's finally getting to live it.'' Maryland coach Brenda Frese won the national championship at Maryland in 2006 and has been striving ever since to return. Yet, watching the gleam in her eye when she spoke about Thomas, it was apparent that Frese wanted this for Thomas as much as herself. ''I can't tell you how many times a day I pause and kind of stop in my tracks and think of Alyssa and just how fitting it is,'' Frese said. ''Everything she's meant to our team and our program, to be able to have her go to a Final Four, it doesn't get any sweeter than that.'' Rutan, who waited just as long as Thomas for this moment, said, ''She's put her heart and soul into this team for four years. She's been the leader on and off the court. For her to be able to get this chance and finally play in the Final Four and not just attend it, it's just great.'' Thomas averages 19 points, 11 rebounds and four assists per game - all team highs. Yet she never fails to point out the attributes of her teammates and will never take sole credit for a victory, not even after she scored a career-high 33 points in an upset win over top-seeded Tennessee last week. Now, she and the Terps are poised to go the distance. ''I wouldn't have wanted to do it with any other group,'' Thomas said. ''Last chance. I think the team has bought into the system and wants to send the seniors out the best way possible.'' Alas, her time at Maryland is fast drawing to a close. One game, hopefully two, remains. Frese is grateful to have gotten these few extra games with arguably the finest player in the history of this storied program. ''Alyssa has always been the most humble person you could ever coach,'' Frese said. ''Her attitude and ego has never changed, even after she's continued to get national attention. It says a lot about who she is, how grounded and humble she is. It's been really special to be able to watch a young lady like that to be able to handle all the pressure and expectations that are on her shoulders every single day.''