Brianna Fraser, whose New York swagger and on-court scowls inspire first impressions like “Big, bad Bri Fraser from Brooklyn,” — incorrectly, one Maryland women’s basketball teammate noted — has a confession. Monday’s NCAA tournament game against UCLA could be the last of her Terps career. Might as well set the record straight now.
“Yeah, I'm kind of soft,” the senior forward said. “I literally cry about everything.”
OK, she quickly amended, not everything. But the end of a simultaneously trying and rewarding season in College Park? That would be tough for Fraser. Her Maryland teammates, too.
As the third-seeded Terps on Sunday looked ahead to Monday night’s second-round game against the No. 6 Bruins, they were focused not on the stakes for the program — a Sweet 16 appearance, a prime-time win — but on the team’s lone senior, on doing right by Bri.
“We have one more game to send Bri out in Xfinity with our fans,” junior wing Kaila Charles said. “We're just ready to play.”
“I think every game this year, we were playing for her,” junior forward Stephanie Jones (Aberdeen) said. “She's always been on our mind, so, yeah, just finishing out here in College Park on a good note for her is very important to us.”
It has been a season of ups and downs, of ins and outs, for the former McDonald’s All American. After starting Maryland’s first two games this season, she returned to her normal reserve role. The change produced hopeful results: She scored 16 points and went 7-for-9 from the field in a mid-November win at George Washington.
But over the next four games, Fraser hit just three shots, twice went scoreless and never played more than 13 minutes. Her scoring average was almost half of what it had been her junior year, when she averaged 10.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.
As Big Ten play arrived, she turned another corner. With freshman forward Shakira Austin moving into the starting lineup, Fraser was again a bench spark plug in times of need. She was the lone bright spot in a blowout loss at Michigan State in mid-January, scoring a game-high 22 points on 7-for-13 shooting. At home against Penn State three days later, she added another efficient 13 points in a narrow win. It was back to business as usual in College Park: The Terps were pushing for a conference title, and Fraser was contributing.
But early in a dramatic come-from-behind victory over Minnesota on Feb. 21, Fraser landed awkwardly on her left ankle and had to be helped to the bench. A sprain sidelined her for the Terps’ final two regular-season games, including her Senior Day.
Fraser wanted to play as Maryland clinched its third regular-season title in four years; her coaches thought better of it. Coach Brenda Frese said afterward that she most admired Fraser’s determination in sticking with the program and preparing for what comes next. “A lot of kids would go in a different direction,” she said. Not Fraser.
“She's always willing to fight,” said junior wing Blair Watson, who missed half of last season with a torn ACL. “Anytime anybody goes through an injury, they're always willing to fight. And Bri, this being her last year, she's got to give it everything she's got. Everything that she has, she's willing to give. Even if she's in pain or her ankle's swollen, she's still playing through it. If you watch her, some days aren't her best days, but she's still giving everything she's got. And that's what we look for in a senior leader like Bri. Every time, she just wants to fight.”
Reserve freshman center Olivia Owens likened her to “a big sister that you always wish for.” Fraser returned to action in time for the Big Ten tournament, but she helped Owens prepare to face Megan Gustafson in the conference final by helping to school her on the Iowa star’s tendencies. Gustafson, facing a series of defenders, finished with 45 points anyway in a win, but Owens turned in her best game of the season.
Teammates describe Fraser as an old soul. Her favorite movie: “The Sound of Music.” Her ideal music: nice and slow. Watson, Fraser’s roommate, said she loves romantic comedies and hates scary movies. Whenever Fraser orders salmon, Owens said, she becomes noticeably frustrated when a restaurant doesn’t offer a particular type of hot sauce to mix with the ranch dressing “to make her little dressing.”
Fraser said it “means a lot” that the Terps are playing with her in mind this March. She wouldn’t mind ending her playing career at Xfinity Center to a standing ovation from fans — so long as everyone else got one. So long as it came with a win.
“Once you get to know her and get her to open up, you know that she's one of the sweetest people that you can meet,” Charles said. “She's honestly a great friend and forever will be a sister to me. So we have a really good relationship. I think everybody does with Bri. She's a great person and, yeah, we're going to miss her a lot. We just want to make sure we can extend our season as far as possible, so we can keep playing with her, because it might be the last time for a while.”