When the No. 8 Maryland women’s basketball team hosts top-ranked UConn on Friday, the Terrapins will need to forget last year’s pair of double-digit losses against the Huskies.
Hostile environments, injuries and a host of other concerns set up a challenging task for Maryland in each game, and though the Terps still face an uphill battle this season, there are a few major differences that could help Maryland upset the defending champion Huskies.
What: No. 8 Maryland (2-0) vs. No. 1 Connecticut (2-0)
When: 6 p.m., Friday
Where: Comcast Center, College Park, Md.
1. Homecourt advantage
Maryland’s Comcast Center can host up to 17,950 fans and is expected to have a good turnout for the matchup between two Top 10 teams. The Terps will need every bit of the crowd noise that those fans can muster while facing the Huskies.
Already playing the underdog role, Maryland had to face UConn in two pro-Huskies environments last year. The first, a 63-48 loss, was played at UConn as part of the Jimmy V Classic. In their second meeting, Maryland fell, 76-50, in a Sweet 16 matchup that ended the Terps' season in Bridgeport, Conn., about an hour and a half from UConn’s campus.
Maryland coach Brenda Frese said she hoped playing at home would make a difference.
“I know our players will be excited to be able to play in this environment,” Frese said. “There should be great comfort playing at home and hopefully we can take advantage of it.”
2. Increased depth and productive freshmen
In Maryland’s season-ending loss against UConn, depth was an issue, with only seven players logging minutes. To make matters worse, the Terrapins’ two backup players who did play finished 0-for-7, while the Huskies had 25 points off the bench.
This time, Frese is hoping that an improved supporting cast, especially at the guard positions, will create a more balanced attack and help take pressure off two-time reigning ACC player of the year Alyssa Thomas.
Freshman center Brionna Jones, who played at Aberdeen, is coming off of an ACL injury in January, but she contributed eight points and eight rebounds in the season opener, a 78-70 win against South Florida. First-year guards Lexie Brown and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough added 11 and 12 points, respectively.
“We have a lot of different weapons that we can interchange,” Frese said. “Brionna Jones is going to be able to give an added dimension that we didn’t have, and Alyssa we can slide with different elements inside and outside, so we feel like we can defend them better than in the past.”
3. New NCAA hand-check rules
A renewed emphasis on cracking down on hand-checking and how players can defend in the post by NCAA women’s basketball officials has put the impetus on coaches to figure out how to win under the new system. The Terps are aware of those changes as well as anyone, and though the rules can go both ways, the Maryland women feel like it will give them an advantage when facing the physically stout Huskies.
“No one can put their hands on anybody, so we’re definitely looking to attack the basket,” junior guard Laurin Mincy said.
If they can put the Huskies in early foul trouble, Mincy said it might have the added benefit of helping them control the boards.
“We’re going to have to focus on boxing them out, but with us attacking them, we’re going to get at the bigs,” Mincy said, “and hopefully that will get them in early foul trouble.”
4. More time to prepare
In last year’s first game vs. UConn, the Maryland women had to quickly adjust from playing at Nebraska only five days before, giving them little time to rest in familiar surroundings. The turnaround didn’t give the team as much time to prepare as they would have liked. That won’t be a problem this year -- the Terrps cruised to an easy 89-53 win against Loyola (Maryland) on Sunday, which has given them four days to prepare from the comforts of home.
That means more time resting, practicing, studying film and discovering tendencies, which hopefully can be exploited come tip-off.
“It’s going to help us out a lot, especially with scouting UConn,” Mincy said. “We can really focus on everything that the players do.”
5. Added motivation
Whether it helps or not, Maryland will have a bigger axe to grind with UConn than in the past.
The two squads had no history before last year, with their first-ever matchup coming at that Dec. 3 game, a surprising fact for two programs that have been among the nation’s best over the past decade. There will be plenty of motivation for the Terrapins, not only from a desire to topple the defending champs -- thus verifying their own title aspirations -- but also from the bitterness of having their season end at the hands of the Huskies.
“We knew we were going to play them early [this] year, so we were all here this summer just working hard and waiting for them to come to our environment,” Thomas said. “They are the best team in the country right now, so this is where we can see where we rank against them.”