ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- As excited as she was to see the firepower the Maryland women's basketball team exhibited in an Albuquerque Regional semifinal win against defending national champion Baylor, coach Brenda Frese was even more pleased by the defense Saturday night.
"Absolutely," Frese said yesterday when asked if she drew greater satisfaction from the defensive effort the Terps used to bounce the Lady Bears from the NCAA tournament. "We've known all season long what kind of offensive team we are, but to put a complete 40-minute game that included our defense and our rebounding and then you cap it off with the defending national champions, it really was just a tremendous game."
Frese will be looking for a similar effort on defense tonight when Maryland meets Utah in the regional final at 7 at "The Pit" at the University of New Mexico.
For the Terps (31-4), the No. 2 seed in the regional, to reach the school's first Final Four since 1989, they will need to replicate their defensive effort of Saturday night.
In the 82-63 victory, Maryland limited the third-seeded Lady Bears to 33.8 percent shooting (25 of 74) from the field. The first half was even worse for Baylor, which converted just 26.8 percent (11 of 41) of its field-goal attempts.
Senior forward Sophia Young, the Big 12 Player of the Year, scored 26 points, but put up 25 shots and missed 14. No Lady Bear made half of her shots.
In the Terps' 81-74 second-round win against St. John's, the seventh-seeded Red Storm shot 48.3 percent (14 of 29) -- including 57.1 percent (four of seven) from behind the three-point line -- in the first half before fading.
"I think we were disappointed in the St. John's game," sophomore center Crystal Langhorne said. "We just felt like we needed to come out and play tough defense, and I think we did that last night."
Maryland has put together some impressive defensive games since February. The Terps have limited seven of their past 10 opponents to less than 40 percent shooting and fewer than 71 points.
Maryland's defense on the perimeter against Baylor -- which Frese praised -- will be tested by the fifth-seeded Utes (27-6).
Utah has hit 44.0 percent (806 of 1,832) of its field-goal attempts, employing a motion offense that urges its guards to curl off screens for open shots or drives.
Senior forward Kim Smith, the four-time Mountain West Player of the Year, leads the Utes in scoring with 19.3 points per game, and senior guards Shona Thorburn and Julie Larsen averaged 12.0 and 10.2 points, respectively.
"With us, it's the same thing every night offensively," said Smith, who scored just seven points on 3-of-13 shooting in Utah's 57-54 victory over No. 8 seed Boston College in the other regional semifinal. "We're just going to go out and run our motion offense. That's how we're going to get open and that's how we're going to get our teammates open. It doesn't really change necessarily with what they're running defensively."
Coach Elaine Elliott refuted the notion that the offensive game plan would entail a slow, half-court pace to use up the 30-second shot clock and keep the ball out of the hands of the Terps offense.
"If we're taking bad shots early or tough shots early, that's a mistake," Elliott said. "But at the same time, if a team's going to pressure us and leave a three-point shooter open early before they get to recover, we will always be comfortable taking that shot. So it isn't so much that we feel like we have to milk the clock. It's more of an understanding of what shots we can make and making sure that we are waiting for them if it's taking time to get them."
The defensive onus will likely be on junior guard Shay Doron, freshman point guard Kristi Toliver and freshman forward Marissa Coleman to fight through screens and stay with the Utes' guards.
Although Doron pointed out the Terps have played against similar offenses, including Wake Forest, Northern Colorado and Sacred Heart, she did note one difference.
"This team is probably one of the better teams at moving without the ball," Doron said. "When their feet are set, they're probably the best in the country at shooting the ball. We just need to go out and contest every shot and not give them any second-chance opportunities."