The Maryland women’s basketball team will make its 28th appearance in the NCAA tournament Monday as the No. 2 seed in the Hemisfair region in San Antonio. Here’s what you need to know before the Terps’ game vs. No. 15 seed Mount St. Mary’s in the Round of 64.
Time: 4 p.m.
Location: Alamodome, San Antonio
Records: Maryland (24-2, 17-1 Big Ten) vs. Mount St. Mary’s (17-6, 14-4 Northeast Conference)
What to watch
How will the Terps focus on stopping a ‘completely different’ Mount St. Mary’s?
The Terps intended to play Mount St. Mary’s back in December until positive coronavirus cases among the Mountaineers forced the game’s cancellation.
Preparing for Mount St. Mary’s now won’t be as easy as pulling out old scouting reports. At the time, Maryland was still figuring out what offenses would work without freshman Angel Reese, who suffered a right foot fracture a week earlier against Towson after playing as a starter. Now, the Terps have Reese back, as well as an offense and defense that’s evolved over the season.
Mount St. Mary’s looks “completely different,” too, Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. The Mountaineers battled through two coronavirus-related pauses to capture the Northeast Conference tournament title and first berth to the NCAA tournament in 26 years. They likewise have dominated as of late, winning 11 of their last 13 games thanks to tournament Most Valuable Player Rebecca Lee (37 blocks this season) and conference Player and Defensive Player of the Year Kendall Bresee (14.1 points per game).
“They’re very good inside and out. They like to attack off the balance,” Frese said. “For us, we feel like we are playing some of our best basketball. Obviously, every team in this tournament is doing the same – otherwise, they wouldn’t be here.”
Maryland’s typically dangerous 3-point shooting took a dip in the Big Ten tournament – a 35.7% average over the three games that falls below their 40.7% season average and a mark that’s gotten as high as 70% (vs. Michigan).
That said, Maryland’s coming off sweeping the Big Ten regular-season and tournament crowns and is riding a 13-game winning streak after suffering just one conference loss.
The Terps are still leading the nation in scoring with 91.3 points per game and their assists to turnover ratio — something Frese always comes back to — is a solid 1.7, a useful stat when Mount St. Mary’s forces more turnovers per game (17.1) than it surrenders (14.9).
Frese said it comes down to the Terps playing to their standard and fine-tuning the little things.
“It’s preparation as usual,” senior forward Chloe Bibby said. “We’re not doing anything different. What we’ve been doing is working, and we’re just staying ready.”
Those with NCAA experience might be the ones to shine this tournament.
When both freshman Angel Reese and redshirt junior Channise Lewis went down with injuries, redshirt sophomore Mimi Collins stepped into a permanent starting role — and ran with it.
Though Collins was posting double doubles throughout the season, she’s scored in double figures in each of the past seven games while shooting better than 50% every time.
In recent games, Collins doesn’t hesitate to make her mark early, often scoring more than any of her teammates in the first quarter while opposing defenders key in on players like All-America selection Ashley Owusu. To Frese, the Waldorf native is playing her best basketball right now.
“She’s making her right plays at the right time of what is needed. Just seeing her round in the form for that consistency factor that we needed on both ends of the floor – her toughness, her rebounding,” the coach said. “To have a forward like her to stretch it like she can, it makes it extremely difficult to guard [her].
Collins carries some experience that few of her teammates have, having played in the first round of the 2019 NCAA tournament with Tennessee.
But Bibby, the senior transfer who also played in the Big Dance with Mississippi State, said her less experienced teammates aren’t feeling anxious.
“No one’s super nervous,” Bibby said. “There’s none of that. We’re all just excited to go out there and play.”
Owusu, who leads the team with 18.3 points per game and earned Associated Press All-America honors with senior Katie Benzan, said she won’t let the pressure of the unknown get to her.
“It is a big deal, but I don’t want to come in doing too much or doing too little,” the sophomore guard said. “Just come in and play the way I’ve always played and help my team.”
Maryland also wasn’t happy with the lackluster environment the NCAA provided in San Antonio.
Speaking for the first time since images of deeply unequal conditions given to the men and women in their respective tournaments surfaced on social media, Frese said Sunday that she was happy documentation forced the NCAA’s hand for something that she said has no place in the 21st century.
“It’s obvious the right hand wasn’t talking to the left hand between these two tournaments,” Frese said. “They have since rectified the situation and made much better improvements. Obviously disappointed they didn’t have that foresight in the beginning.”
Frese said she doesn’t want her team to become swept up in the controversy to the point that it distracts them from playing good basketball, and also credited the NCAA for providing a safe environment for them to get ready.
“I think being women, we are conditioned to expect less. And that’s really sad,” Bibby said, “unfortunate that that is the reality. I think all the teams and girls in this tournament have done a great job using their platform to initiate that change.”