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‘This team is so much different’: Maryland unfazed by recent struggles in second round of NCAA women’s tournament

No matter how much praise Maryland women’s basketball teams have received in the past five years, few Terps have been able to survive past the second round of the NCAA tournament.

In 2019, UCLA eliminated third-seeded Maryland, 85-80, on its home floor. In 2018, North Carolina State made it sting a little more, dropping the No. 5 seed Terps, 74-60. In 2016, No. 2 seed Maryland fell to Washington, 74-65.

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Maryland last reached the Sweet Sixteen in 2017 and immediately met its end against No. 10 seed Oregon, 77-63, the second of three Pac-12 teams to cut the Terps’ NCAA tournament run short within the past four years.

That’s a dry spell the No. 2 seed Terps (25-2) fully intend to end this year as they face No. 7 seed Alabama (17-9) on Wednesday at 1 p.m. in the Round of 32. After all, the past holds no water to Maryland coach Brenda Frese.

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“No,” Frese said, laughing. “I think every team, every season is different. This team is so much different from other teams we’ve had in the past. It’s really a new year. It’s a new season.”

How true is that? For starters, this year’s Terps squad entered the NCAA tournament with a higher winning percentage (.923) than each of those three teams that lost in the second round.

This season’s Maryland team, which boasts the best offense in the country, also ranks higher in points per game (91.5), 3-point shooting percentage (.406), free throws per game (16.1) and assists per game (20.1).

Six Terps players are scoring in double figures this season, including one reserve, freshman Angel Reese (10.1 points per game). The 2015-16, 2017-18 and 2018-19 Terps never had more than five such players on one team. That depth contributes to Maryland’s versatility.

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“They can play any style. Yesterday, we didn’t need to lean on our 3-point shot. We got to the free-throw line 30 times,” Frese said. “You look at our unselfishness — they just have a high IQ, wanting to make the right play.”

This year’s Maryland team also reigns supreme in an area Frese pinpoints all the time: assist-to-turnover ratio (1.7).

The 2021 Terps also collect 4.4 more turnovers per game than they give up. Those three teams that exited in the second round never reached such heights, and two — the 2018-19 and 2015-16 teams — even had a negative turnover margin.

Frese also noted she’s never had a team that’s spent more time in the gym.

“When you watch us, this team just keeps adding things to our game,” Frese said.

Alabama — which is shooting 43% from the field and 36.2% from 3-point range — might be averaging its most points (75.0) in almost 20 years, but it pales in comparison with Maryland’s 91.5. While the Crimson Tide’s scoring arsenal includes three players who consistently hit double figures, the offense simply isn’t as deep as the Terps’. Jasmine Walker leads with 19 points per game, with fellow seniors Jordan Lewis (17.4) and Ariyah Copeland (14.8) not far behind.

Frese notes that some of Monday’s upsets demonstrate how much of a “neutral” playing field this year’s tournament is. No. 6 seed Rutgers bowed to No. 11 seed BYU and No. 4 seed Arkansas lost to No. 13 seed Wright State.

She knows second-seeded Maryland has what it takes to hold off Alabama.

“Our league has really prepared us,” Frese said. “I think they [Alabama] have a balanced attack, an inside-outside approach that we’ve seen with other teams in our conference.”

That said, Frese respects the threat Alabama’s top three pose. Lewis had a career-high 32 points against North Carolina, one point shy of the program record in an NCAA tournament game, and nearly hit a triple double with 11 rebounds and eight assists. Three others surpassed double figures, too; junior guard Hannah Barber had 14 points, Walker posted 13 and Copeland netted 11.

Frese also anticipates dangerous collective team defense from the veteran-led Crimson Tide.

“For us, the standard doesn’t change. We’ve got our work cut out for us with their big three. You saw the monster game that Lewis had yesterday, [as well as] Walker, Copeland,” Frese said. “And they got contributions from a lot of their other players, so for us, it’s just a collective team effort for 40 minutes.”

Redshirt freshman Mimi Collins felt pride in Maryland’s ability to box out against Mount St. Mary’s on Monday, when the Terps pulled down 18 offensive and 31 defensive rebounds in the 98-45 first-round win. Collins, who played against Alabama during her freshman year at Tennessee, thinks rebounds will help turn the tide against the Crimson Tide.

“When we play Maryland defense, nobody can stop us,” Collins said.

NCAA women’s tournament second round

NO. 2 MARYLAND VS. NO. 7 ALABAMA

San Antonio

Wednesday, 1 p.m.

TV: ESPN2

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