GREENVILLE, S.C. — The Maryland women’s basketball team did not go out with a whimper.
Tasked with the David-versus-Goliath task of trying to get past reigning national champion and undefeated South Carolina, the No. 2 seed Terps outplayed, outhustled and outscrapped their opponent and actually owned a 21-15 lead after the first quarter. But the overall No. 1 seed Gamecocks were too big and too deep and outscored Maryland 47-29 in the second and third quarters to roll to an 86-75 win in an NCAA Tournament Elite Eight game Monday night.
The Terps lost despite scoring 75 points and shooting 50% overall (29 of 58) and from 3-point range (7 of 14). Since 2000, teams had won 279 of 290 games in the women’s and men’s NCAA tournaments when reaching those benchmarks, according to StatsPerform.
Terps senior shooting guard Diamond Miller appreciated her teammates’ effort, something that was never in question after a tumultuous offseason.
“That just shows we have heart, we have grit, and just because they’re taller doesn’t mean we can’t bang,” she said. “If y’all didn’t see that we were banging today, I don’t know what could show you that.”
Here are five takeaways from the Terps’ 2022-23 season.
A less turbulent offseason? Yes, please.
Unlike the previous offseason, Maryland’s cupboard is far from bare.
Yes, Miller, the team’s undisputed leader, will likely leave to enter the WNBA draft as a projected top-three pick, and senior shooting guard Abby Meyers and graduate student point guard Elisa Pinzan have exhausted their eligibility.
But shooting guard Shyanne Sellers is only a sophomore, and shooting guards Brinae Alexander and Lavender Briggs and power forward Faith Masonius, all seniors, said they plan to return for at least one more season. (Or two, in Masonius’ case.) And a trio of freshmen in shooting guard Bri McDaniel, point guard Gia Cooke and small forward Mila Reynolds played in 34, 25 and 22 games, respectively.
Assuming they all return, that’s a 180-degree turn from April 6 when five players in power forward Mimi Collins, shooting guard Taisiya Kozlova, shooting guard Channise Lewis, point guard Ashley Owusu and center Angel Reese (St. Frances) chose to transfer to other destinations. Add in the graduations of shooting guard Katie Benzan and power forward Chloe Bibby, and the Terps lost 85% of their offense.
Still, you can’t blame coach Brenda Frese for being a little guarded about what the roster will look like next winter.
“You say that right now, but you just don’t know,” she said. “You could still have surprises. So yes, [there is stability] if you have some of those comfort pieces, but you just never know.”
Those returners should provide some much-needed continuity
Chemistry isn’t just taught in the classroom.
As quickly and effectively as Frese restocked the roster after the departures of those seven players, it took some time for the new and veteran faces to get adjusted to one another. That seemed evident during the team’s opening 10-game stretch that produced three losses, including surprising setbacks to DePaul on Nov. 25 and Big Ten foe Nebraska on Dec. 4.
After that span, Maryland closed out the regular season with 17 wins in 19 games and then went 4-2 in the Big Ten and NCAA postseasons. Although the team fell short of its objective of capturing its second national championship and first since 2006, the players frequently cited how much they enjoyed playing with one another.
“Definitely having that continuity now and just being able to play on the floor this year, it definitely gives us that confidence because we’re already gelling so well,” Masonius said. “So imagine what a year would do for that and just imagine how well we start to play together.”
Briggs said she is already looking forward to next winter.
“I think next year, we’re going to be a great team,” she said. “We have some great freshmen coming in, and they’re going to be fun to play with. We have a big post player coming in, and she’s going to be fun to play with. Our whole game plan will change, and I think we will be a little different of a team next year. It’s good that we’re playing with each other now and building that cohesiveness.”
Replacing Diamond Miller is going to be difficult
Less than a year removed from offseason surgery to repair a stress fracture in the patella in her right knee, Miller forged one of the best seasons in Maryland history.
Her 19.7 points per game were the most by a Terp since Brionna Jones averaged 19.7 in 2016-17. She finished the season leading the team in rebounds (6.4) and steals (2.1). She ranks 10th on the all-time scoring list with 1,706 points. And she broke the single-season record for free throws of 176 set by Alyssa Thomas in 2012-13 with 201.
So who could pick up the slack? Sellers looms as the first option after averaging 13.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.8 steals. Humble to a fault, Sellers downplayed her ascent as the team’s next star.
“You never can replace Diamond,” she said. “I think we’re just all going to flourish in different ways. Diamond will be missed.”
Frese pointed out the program has reloaded before, replacing Crystal Langhorne and Laura Harper with the duo of Marissa Coleman and Kristi Toliver, Thomas with Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Jones, and Walker-Kimbrough and Jones with Kaila Charles.
“So it’s not like it’s my first rodeo,” she said. “You’re going to have Shy and Faith and Lav and Brinae and a lot of your kids coming back that you will build differently. You don’t know what takes place with your new kids coming in and any kids out of the portal. So you’ve got to kind of wait to see every year what your roster is going to look like.”
Sellers is poised for a breakout junior year — perhaps at point guard
After making one start in Maryland’s first six games, Sellers became a regular in the first five at shooting guard. But she might have been most effective at point guard.
As a backup to Pinzan, Sellers led the offense in assists. She was particularly productive in the postseason, where she averaged 7.0 assists in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.
Sellers’ ability to play the point shouldn’t be that surprising considering she had played the position for as long as she can remember.
“Last year was really the first time I came off the point guard spot,” she said. “So coming back to the position was pretty good for me.”
Playing point guard requires court vision and leadership qualities, and Sellers said she welcomes those responsibilities.
“I definitely like the baggage that it comes with just because it’s a lot more fun,” she said. “It’s intense, and that’s what makes the game of basketball so fun, owning all the leadership roles that come with being the point guard. So yeah, I embrace it a lot.”
Frese didn’t directly answer whether Sellers will start at point guard next season, but she acknowledged her strengths in that role.
“She’s got great length, and she’s just doing a phenomenal job of navigating at that point guard position — when to score and when to make plays for others,” Frese said. “She’s so versatile with her ability to score, but also to create for others. Especially with her size and her length, it gives us a lot of great options to be able to move her around.”
Getting bigger should be a priority
Games against Notre Dame and South Carolina in the NCAA Tournament illustrated that size does matter, especially in basketball.
The Fighting Irish’s starting frontcourt of 6-foot-4 Lauren Ebo, 6-4 Kylee Watson, 6-3 Maddy Westbeld and 6-5 Natalija Marshall off the bench was a problem for Maryland in the first half until the team used a press to convert turnovers into instant offense. The Gamecocks’ starting group of 6-5 Aliyah Boston and 6-2 Victaria Saxton and a pair of reserves in 6-7 Kamilla Cardoso and 6-4 Laeticia Amihere helped muscle the Terps into the offseason.
The team wasn’t planning to lack size in the paint. Season-ending knee injuries to 6-2 Allie Kubek (Towson) and 6-2 Emma Chardon left the 6-1 Masonius as Maryland’s lone true post player.
“They will be back — Emma and Allie,” Frese said. “So we’ll address that and have some size coming in.”
That size Frese mentioned is embodied by an incoming class of freshmen that includes 6-5 center Hawa Doumbouya. If she can get up to speed, she could be an asset on the glass, where the Terps outrebounded their opponent in only 16 of 35 games.
Masonius said improving those rebounding numbers will be a goal next season.
“Sixteen out of 30-something games, that’s maybe half, but you can always get more than half,” Masonius said. “We want 70%. So we want to increase that rebounding because rebounding wins rings. That’s definitely something Coach B has been emphasizing.”