xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Katie Benzan, Chloe Bibby face old friends in No. 2 Maryland’s clash against No. 6 Texas in women’s basketball Sweet 16

Maryland guard Katie Benzan (11) during a college basketball game against Mount St. Mary's in the first round of the women's NCAA tournament at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Monday, March 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Maryland guard Katie Benzan (11) during a college basketball game against Mount St. Mary's in the first round of the women's NCAA tournament at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Monday, March 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) (Eric Gay)

Life has a way of bringing serendipity back into one’s life. For Maryland senior Katie Benzan, it’s getting assigned the team she intended to play for, before she transferred to Maryland, in the Sweet Sixteen this Sunday.

When she decided to forgo her final playing season at Harvard, Benzan initially picked Texas: she liked the coaches, the players. When Benzan withdrew her commitment and chose the Maryland road instead, it seemed the Longhorns chapter blinked out for good.

Advertisement

But on Sunday, Benzan will be surrounded by burnt orange after all. She’ll just be the one wearing Terps colors as the No. 2 Terps face off against No. 6 Texas in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.

“I’m just looking forward to being in the Sweet Sixteen and to compete with my teammates. It’s kind of a funny coincidence that it worked out this way,” Benzan said, “that I’m going to play Texas. I still have good friends on Texas that I keep in contact with, so I’m looking forward to seeing them, say hello and compete against them.”

Advertisement
Advertisement

The Longhorns’ defense secured its win over a capable UCLA offense Wednesday, limiting it to 13 points below its season scoring average. Two players hit career-high numbers; Celeste Taylor (nine field goals) and Kyra Lambert (10 rebounds). Defense also defeated Texas’ first-round opponent, No. 11 Bradley, which the Longhorns held to seven points in the first quarter — the 14th time Texas has limited a team to 10 points or less in a frame.

Fellow transfer Chloe Bibby is not one bit concerned about Texas’ defense. She played for Longhorns coach Vic Schaefer at Mississippi State, but she knows how lethal the Terps offense is since it is avergang 91.8 points a game. The Maryland bench alone combined for 46 points Wednesday in the 100-64 second-round win over Alabama; the Terps shot for 61.8% from the floor.

Six Terps average double figures — Ashley Owusu (18.1), Diamond Miller (17.1), Bibby (13.1), Benzan (12.9), Mimi Collins (10.8) and Angel Reese (10.7).

“I think our offense is something we’ve rolled with all year and we’re doing really well; so that’s fine they’re a defensive team, but they still got to try to stop us,” Bibby said. “We’re the best offense in the country. We’ve proved that.”

Advertisement

Texas compares similarly to Maryland with rebounding and causing turnovers.

“They do a tremendous job on the glass,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said, “and defensively, they want to turn you over and they want to force you into a lot of pressure situations. So it’s just keeping your poise and your composure.”

Benzan, a student in Maryland’s journalism department, analyzed Texas’ second-round win over third-seeded UCLA.

“UCLA’s shots didn’t fall in the first half. They dug themselves into a hole that was hard to crawl out of,” she said. “It was a really good, competitive game; in the second half, it was a 10, 12, 15-point game — it didn’t feel like that. … Texas just gave that first punch.”

Many experts consider 6-foot-5 Texas center Charli Collier the front-runner to become the No. 1 overall WNBA draft pick this year. She’s unleashed as many as 44 points in a game this season, with an average of 19.7 per game.

But Collier’s offense has taken a hit lately; she had just five points against UCLA and three against Baylor in the Big 12 Tournament semifinal.

“Charli’s a great player, and she’s big and she has a lot of threats to our game,” Benzan said, “so we’re definitely going to have to make sure we defend hard and keep her in check. But she’s one piece. Texas has a lot of other good pieces.”

Maryland head coach Brenda Frese talks with Katie Benzan (11) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball championship game against Iowa at the Big Ten Conference tournament, Saturday, March 13, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Maryland head coach Brenda Frese talks with Katie Benzan (11) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball championship game against Iowa at the Big Ten Conference tournament, Saturday, March 13, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings) (Darron Cummings/AP)

Benzan rippled waves across the Big Ten on Feb. 23 when she drilled a program-record nine 3-pointers in one game — tying the school mark — in concert with one of the best freshmen in basketball, Caitlin Clark, who also netted nine triples.

Since then, others have taken their turns in the spotlight while Benzan’s noticed an increase in coverage around the perimeter. It seems opponents have finally figured out how dangerous the 5-foot-6 guard can be from 3-point range.

But that’s “the beautiful thing about Katie,” Frese said. She’ll find somewhere else to excel.

“The attraction she’s taking on the offensive end takes the defender out of the mix,” Frese said. “She’s going to get in there and defensively make all those 50-50 plays to go get the ball. She’s going to scrap and rebound for us.”

Benzan increased her steals lately, recording 15 in March. She also had six assists against Iowa in the Big Ten tournament final.

“Being small, I have to be a little creative in being effective on defense. Every possession matters, whether in the Big Ten tournament or March Madness,” Benzan said. “The pressure is a little bit more noticeable.”

When guards block her from the perimeter, she focuses instead on running the point, serving passes to other teammates who can take advantage instead.

The Harvard graduate is also of the mindset that she doesn’t need to play the star every night for Maryland to win. Not when there’s a galaxy swirling around her.

“The ultimate goal is that we win, no matter how many points I score, no matter how many minutes I play — as long as we win and move on,” Benzan said. “That’s what matters. I’m just doing whatever my team needs me to do to win.”

NCAA women’s tournament third round

NO. 2 MARYLAND VS. NO. 6 TEXAS

San Antonio

Sunday, 9 p.m.

TV: ESPN

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement