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NCAA tournament: No. 5 seed Maryland women take show on the road in rout of Princeton

Maryland's Kaila Charles (5) attempts a shot against Princeton's Bella Alarie (31) during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament in Raleigh, N.C., Friday, March 16, 2018.
Maryland's Kaila Charles (5) attempts a shot against Princeton's Bella Alarie (31) during the first half of a first-round game in the NCAA women's college basketball tournament in Raleigh, N.C., Friday, March 16, 2018. (Ben McKeown / AP)

Maryland women’s basketball coach Brenda Frese opened her postgame news conference Friday afternoon with a joke about former president Barack Obama, who picked No. 12 seed Princeton to take down the fifth-seeded Terrapins in a bracket he posted online. Obama’s niece Leslie Robinson plays for the Tigers.

“First of all, I don’t know what it is about former president Obama always picking against us,” Frese said with a smile. “We’re neighbors. We allowed him to use our arena for speeches — but we’ll take it! It’s been good luck for us.”

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Frese and her Terps were in a joking mood after they took down Princeton with ease Friday, scoring a 77-57 win at Reynolds Coliseum to advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Maryland (26-7) plays No. 4 seed North Carolina State on Sunday. The host Wolfpack handled No. 13 seed Elon, 62-35, later Friday afternoon.

The Terps played with an intensity, especially in the second half, that contrasted with Frese’s postgame lightheartedness. After a shaky start on offense in which they didn’t get off clean shots and couldn’t convert defensive stops into points, the Terps came out of the locker room for the second half with renewed focus, and they rattled off a fierce third quarter in which they limited Princeton to 10 points as sophomore guard Kaila Charles scored 11 of Maryland’s 22.

Terps coach Brenda Frese now has pledges from four top-60 junior prospects. No other program has more than two.

“We were not locked in all the way,” Charles said, “and once we figured that out, we started to pull away.”

The Terps shot 46.7 percent from the field and made seven 3-pointers, which was more than enough to support a defensive effort that stifled Princeton all game. Charles, who led all scorers with 20 points, Brianna Fraser and Stephanie Jones stuck on the Tigers’ leading scorer, Bella Alarie, all afternoon.

Maryland pressed on defense from the start to rattle Princeton and pounce in transition. The Terps outrebounded the Tigers 43-25.

“We were really unable to move the basketball north-south. We spent a lot of time on east-west, and I don’t quite know why. We do a lot of north-south in our action usually,” Princeton Coach Courtney Banghart said. “And then that led to defensive breakdowns and discipline. Part of it is, to beat a good team, you’ve got to be so locked in on both ends, and you get fatigued.”

Abby Meyers led Princeton with 13 points off the bench, and Alarie had 12. But the rest of the Tigers couldn’t do much against Maryland’s pressure defense — especially in the first quarter, when Princeton dug itself a six-point hole.

The Terps women's Big Ten Sixth Player of the Year has taken charge of a club team on campus, with great success.

The Tigers committed six turnovers in the first six minutes and couldn’t get their offense going after that, giving up 14 points off turnovers.

Maryland ran its plays more fluidly. A behind-the-back pass from Eleanna Christinaki and a no-look pass from freshman point guard Channise Lewis set the tone in the second half. Crucially, Christinaki and senior guard Kristen Confroy had good shooting games.

To complement Charles’s 20 points, Christinaki added 16, and Confroy had 14 points and made 3 of 5 3-point attempts — another harbinger of success for the Terps. Maryland had its faults, the most glaring of which was 16 turnovers to balance out 16 assists. But overall, Frese was pleased with the Terps’ performance.

“Offensive rhythm, we might be able to clean that up, and that might be rust from being off for a couple weeks and just getting back, but I liked how hard we played,” Frese said. “I thought we played really hard today against a really good Princeton team.”

Maryland watched Elon and N.C. State play after eating lunch and receiving treatment, but Friday night, she wanted her players to relax. They’ll have an easier practice today and possibly some time to spend with their families.

“We’re in a good spot right now; everybody’s just having a really good time embracing the atmosphere and everything,” guard Sarah Myers said. “We’re really enjoying each other’s company and taking in the moment, because you never know when it’ll be your last.”

Frese makes an effort to give her players time to relax off the court during the NCAA tournament. It helps them be more intense come game time.

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“You can challenge them when you need to challenge them, but I think sometimes in this pressure-packed situation, I think if you’re too intense or put too much pressure, you’re just layering what’s the obvious, what’s already there,” Frese said. “I think our job as coaches is to be able to keep that from them when we can, because that element is already there. We’re just continuing to instill confidence in them and the way that they’re playing.”

PRINCETON—Alarie 5-12 2-2 12, Jordan 2-5 1-2 5, Robinson 2-5 5-6 9, Ismail 0-0 0-0 0, Littlefield 1-6 0-0 2, Baur 1-1 0-0 2, Boyer 0-1 0-0 0, Stallworth 0-0 0-0 0, Davis 0-0 0-0 0, Holland 0-2 2-2 2, Meyers 4-10 3-4 13, Rush 2-5 0-0 6, Weledji 3-6 0-0 6. Totals 20-53 13-16 57.

MARYLAND—Christinaki 7-14 0-0 16, Jones 1-4 1-2 3, Charles 8-15 4-6 20, Confroy 5-10 1-2 14, Lewis 3-5 0-0 8, Ellison 0-0 0-0 0, Fraser 2-6 0-0 4, Myers 1-2 4-4 6, Small 1-4 4-4 6. Totals 28-60 14-18 77.

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