COLLEGE PARK — COLLEGE PARK — The Maryland women's basketball team arrived back on campus early Sunday morning still stinging from its first loss of the season. The 70-64 result against Washington State, the Terps' first loss to an unranked opponent since Jan. 23, 2013, was an unexpected conclusion to what began as a relaxing trip to Puerto Rico, where the Terps entered ranked 10th in the country and the prohibitive favorite to win the San Juan Shootout.
Then less than 24 hours after coming home, Maryland dropped five spots in the Associated Press poll Monday afternoon. The task of reclaiming a spot in the top 10, where Maryland (6-1) resided all last season, starts with a game against No. 2 Notre Dame in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge tonight in Fort Wayne, Ind.
The Terps have lost to the perennial national power three straight times, including 87-61 in last season's Final Four in Nashville, Tenn. Notre Dame (7-0) is the only team from the national semifinals that remains undefeated after Maryland, Stanford and Connecticut each lost recently.
"You just look around the country. A bunch of top 10 teams have been upset," Terps sophomore point guard Lexie Brown said. "I think it would be fun to pull the upset, but definitely to prove that we belong top 10, Top 25, and I know a lot [of] people probably don't think that, but I think we belong there, and we can prove that this week."
Last season Maryland came tantalizingly close to beating the runner-up in three of the past four NCAA title games. Despite trailing by 22 late in the first half, the Terps stormed back to take a one-point lead with 9 minutes, 59 seconds left in regulation thanks to a jumper from Alyssa Thomas, who finished with 29 points, 12 rebounds and five assists in the 87-84 loss.
Thomas graduated as Maryland's all-time leader in points and rebounds, and the Terps have leaned on redshirt senior guard Laurin Mincy over the first two weeks of the season to replace some that scoring production. The search for commensurate rebounding has been more exhaustive for a program used to supremacy in that category thanks to Thomas and other recently graduated post players such as Alicia DeVaughn and Tianna Hawkins.
Maryland is No. 27 nationally in rebounding margin (+10.4) after finishing in the top five the past two seasons.
"I think for the most part it's us being able to focus in on other teams and coming in ready to play for 40 minutes," Mincy said.
Among the most unsightly deficiencies against the Cougars were a season-high 24 turnovers that led to 22 points. Brown and Mincy each committed six turnovers that in part offset the Terps' 38-27 advantage in rebounding, including 12-5 offensively.
Notre Dame is 11th in the country in turnover margin (+9.9), averaging 12 per game.
"I think it's two teams that are very familiar with one another, and both have different rosters with what they've lost from last year and what we've lost," Maryland coach Brenda Frese said.
"But they're playing at an extremely high rate, and we're going to have to really improve to bring the level of our game to where we know it's got to be."