At opposite ends of their college basketball careers, Notre Dame fifth-year senior guard Brittany Mallory and Maryland freshman guard Brene Moseley view Tuesday night's NCAA tournament regional final at PNC Arena through much different eyes.
Mallory is looking for top-seeded Notre Dame (33-3) to erase the disappointment of last season's NCAA championship game defeat to Texas A&M in Indianapolis. Moseley is hoping to get second-seeded Maryland (31-4) back to the Final Four for the first time since the Terps won the title in 2006.
While Mallory and her teammates say they have been toughened by last year's experience and admittedly carry "a big chip" on their collective shoulder as a result, Moseley does not have the memory of Maryland's last trip to the Elite Eight, when the Terps were blown out here by Louisville in 2009.
"I know getting to the Final Four last year has definitely helped all of us with our mindset this year going into the  tournament," Mallory, who grew up in Baltimore (McDonogh), said Sunday after the Irish crushed fifth-seeded St. Bonaventure, 79-35. "We all have our moments of being young and making a mistake. The fact that we were there last year is really an advantage for us."
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said at Monday's news conference that getting Mallory to return this season "was the best recruiting job we've ever done, the most impactful recruit in that class." Though Mallory averages only 5.8 points and 2.6 rebounds, she is a fearless defender who helped hold St. Bonaventure's leading scorer, Jessica Jenkins, scoreless Sunday.
"She does so many little things, they don't show up in the stat sheet. They don't show up a lot of places," McGraw said. "The coaches appreciate what she does, from the upbeat positive attitude she brings every day to the determined relentless defender that she brings every day. She is the most consistent in terms of her attitude and effort every day."
Moseley, who played a key role off the bench in Maryland's 81-74 comeback win over Texas A&M on Sunday, said that she is looking forward to playing against the Irish. That she will likely get matched up against a more experienced player — in her case it could be junior point guard Skylar Diggins — doesn't seem to faze her.
"I've always wanted to play the best competition," said Moseley, who averages 7.1 points. "I may not succeed the first time, but I will be back again. I don't look at who you are. I'm going to try to attack you regardless of your years [in college] or how old you are. It does help to have [fifth-year senior] Anjale' [Barrett] by my side if I make a mistake. She'll tell me to calm down, regroup, this is how you attack that the next time."
It happened to Moseley in the second half Sunday against the Aggies. After nearly completing her team's comeback in the first half from an 18-point deficit when her halfcourt shot came close to banking in at the halftime buzzer, Moseley missed a breakaway layup as the Terps were clawing back from 11 points behind in the second half.
It came with Maryland trailing, 70-63, with a little less than nine minutes left.
A few minutes later, Moseley hit a running floater to put Maryland ahead, 74-73, as the 30-second clock was about to expire.
"She's fearless, she loves the big stage, she wants to be in this moment," Maryland coach Brenda Frese said after Moseley scored seven points, along with six assists and four rebounds in 28 minutes. "She had that layup that she blew, it didn't faze her. It didn't faze me. A lot of players it would have. Then she comes down and hits that running floater to put us ahead. She's special, obviously."
Senior center Lynetta Kizer, one of three players remaining from the last Maryland team to reach the Elite Eight, said that "At her age, I didn't realize what was at stake. Bones (Moseley's nickname since she was a young child) doesn't have to worry about that. She's smiling, she's laughing, she's just going out and playing hard. All we need her to do is be a kid right now and just go out, have fun and just play. But she definitely understands what's at stake."
Said Frese: "The first time you go through the NCAA and go deep into the tournament, it's just youthful bliss. You're in uncharted territory, you don't know how to act, you don't know what you're supposed to be feeling. There's something beautiful in that flow. You can be kind of childlike and along for the ride. She kind of lifts the pressure off our older players."
So does Mallory, but for all the Notre Dame players, and in a different way.
"I try to keep everything calm in practice. I keep everyone level-headed in games when emotions get high," Mallory said Monday. "They call me 'Mom' on the team because I look after everybody."
Depending on what happens Tuesday night, Mallory might need to do it again. Aside from a handful of games this season, the Irish have not been tested deep into the second half. Given what's at stake, Mallory is mindful that Notre Dame has to put the memories of last year's loss to Texas A&M quickly in the background.
"We can't win the championship from last year by winning a game this year," she said. "We all know that. We can use it to keep that fight in us. If the game gets close … and we think about it that way and we can win a championship game from a game this year, that's going to ruin us. None of us are thinking that way."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun