Maryland women aim to avoid history in first round of NCAA tournament

Brionna Jones and the Terps open NCAA tournament play Saturday afternoon at home against New Mexico State.
Brionna Jones and the Terps open NCAA tournament play Saturday afternoon at home against New Mexico State. (Nam Y. Huh, Associated Press)

It's happened exactly once in the history of the women's NCAA tournament, and the 2015 Maryland team has no intention of becoming victim No. 2.

Seventeen years ago, Harvard became the first and so far, only, No. 16 seed to upset a No. 1 — in that case, Stanford.


Saturday afternoon, New Mexico State will take its best shot at becoming the second against the top-seeded Terps.

"We've showed 'em that game," New Mexico State coach Mark Trakh said, referring to Harvard's historic upset. "We've quoted 'Miracle on Ice' and quoted 'Hoosiers.' … Somebody asked me, 'If you win the game how big would it be?' And I said, 'Well, 20 years from now, they'll make a movie, Miracle on Hardwood.'"

Since the tournament bracket was announced Monday evening, Maryland players have pledged not to take any opponent for granted. Coach Brenda Frese said it hasn't been difficult to instill that mentality.

"What I like about this team is that within all the winning and success, they've stayed really grounded," she said. "They've really locked in and understood that it's one game, one day, one practice at a time. … They don't look out ahead."

It's part of the reason Maryland avoided any lapses on an undefeated run through the Big Ten Conference regular season and tournament.

If any of the players need to find a sense of urgency, they need only look to senior guard Laurin Mincy, who's approaching her last games at the Xfinity Center.

"You can really feel Laurin's intensity in practice, and everybody knows why," Frese said. "Her voice is even louder than it's been all season, and she's been our voice."

The Terps, however, weren't so focused as to avoid all levity. Frese drew laughs Friday after she was asked if she'd seen President Barack Obama's bracket, in which he picked No. 8 seed Princeton to beat Maryland in the second round. Obama's niece, Leslie Robinson, is a freshman forward for the undefeated Tigers.

"He has strong loyalty, which makes sense," Frese said. " He wants to keep a happy home. One of these days, if there isn't a family member related, he'll choose Maryland."

A rumor circulated Friday that Michelle Obama and other members of the first family might attend Princeton's first-round game Saturday morning against Green Bay at Xfinity Center. But Maryland officials said they couldn't confirm. The first lady was in Tokyo at the end of the week.

Regardless of the Obama drama, Maryland players kept their sights on New Mexico State.

The Aggies come to College Park as the Western Athletic Conference regular season and tournament champions, and with a 22-7 record that's particularly impressive when you realize they started the season 0-5.

Trakh, is one of only 10 coaches in women's Division I history to lead three different programs to the NCAA tournament (he previously pulled it off at Southern California and Pepperdine).

Nonetheless, New Mexico State can't begin to match Maryland's pedigree.


This is the program's first NCAA appearance in 27 years. Maryland has gone to the tournament 11 times in Frese's 13 seasons as head coach.

The Aggies didn't play a ranked team all season. The Terps beat 10 ranked opponents.

"It's like what do you take away from them?" Trakh said in assessing Maryland's strengths. "They're active inside. We force a lot of turnovers, but to be honest, we didn't play three guards like Maryland's got on the floor. It's going to be different."

His players said they're happy just to be in the tournament but conceded nothing to Maryland. "We worked hard just like they work hard," said guard Shanice Davis. "I feel like it's pretty much anybody's game. I'm not going in with a negative mind set."

After a week of studying New Mexico State on film, Frese said she was impressed by the Aggies' ability to switch defensive sets and force turnovers.

"They really try to make you uncomfortable," she said.

She added that most of New Mexico State's rotation players are dangerous 3-point shooters. In fact, the Aggies' top two scorers, Davis and Sasha Weber, both averaged more than five 3-point attempts per game. Overall, New Mexico State averaged 24 3-point attempts per game, compared to 15 for Maryland.

Frese said the Aggies bear some resemblance to Ohio State — the team Maryland just beat in the Big Ten final — in their desire to push tempo and settle into a weave offense. Terps players said that approach should play to Maryland's strengths.

"We love to defend, rebound and run," Terps point guard Lexie Brown said. "That's what we do, so when we go against a team that likes to do what we do, it's a lot of fun. We're going to have a really exciting game tomorrow."