COLLEGE PARK — The Maryland’s women’s basketball season is essentially starting the same way the last one ended: at South Carolina.
The Terps have already played a game — a home-opening rout of Harvard — but their first true test comes Sunday in Greenville, South Carolina, against a No. 6-ranked Gamecocks team that ended Maryland’s season in the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight in March.
“We both have completely different teams now,” guard Faith Masonius said. “It’s a matter of coming out and playing our best basketball in a top-15 game. It’s going to be a good one.”
However, South Carolina isn’t the only measuring-stick game for No. 14 Maryland this month. After going on the road to play the Gamecocks, the Terps do the same on Thursday at No. 2 UConn.
“These are the games you’re going to see in March,” guard Jakia Brown-Turner said. “I think it’s definitely going to prepare us for the rest of the season.”
The two games against powerhouse programs are the first of 10 against Associated Press Top 25 teams, seven of which will come versus Big Ten opponents. Longtime coach Brenda Frese, who has often scheduled nonconference games against top-tier programs during her tenure, said one of the main benefits is to prepare the Terps for conference play.
“I don’t want to have a false hope going into conference play where our strengths and our weaknesses lie,” Frese said. “It’s not just protecting your win record and not playing teams that are going to prepare you. It’s helping us get ourselves ready for conference and then postseason.”
Last year, the Terps played three nonconference games against top-10 programs, including a home loss to South Carolina, which went undefeated before losing to Iowa in the Final Four, and a home win over UConn for Maryland’s first win over the Huskies.
The benefit of this year’s tests are that they come on the road in two of the toughest environments in women’s college basketball.
“When you look at how many teams are ranked in the Big Ten and obviously when you have to go play road games at Indiana and Ohio State and all the rest, it’s really important to help prepare us,” Frese said.
Entering the season, South Carolina wasn’t expected to be as dominant as they were last year, but the Gamecocks proved in their season opener that they should be just as feared. They took on No. 10 Notre Dame in Paris and crushed the Fighting Irish, 100-72. Five Gamecocks scored in double figures, led by 6-foot-7 senior Kamilla Cardoso’s 20 points and 15 rebounds.
“Obviously in that first game they really showed they’re further ahead than most people would think,” Frese said.
Cardoso is far from the only player that offers coach Dawn Staley height and physical presence down low. She is one of eight players who stand at 6 feet or taller — a challenge for a Maryland team that plays a smaller style of basketball.
Despite winning by 23 points over Harvard last Sunday, the Terps allowed the Crimson to grab 25 offensive rebounds. Frese said the team’s ability to rebound versus South Carolina — and prevent the Gamecocks from dominating on the offensive glass — is “concerning.”
“We don’t have 6-[foot]-7 [players] sitting on the glass for us,” she said. “It’s going to have to be collective and more disciplined to go get as many box outs as you can. You’re going to have to negate it in different ways.”
Sunday’s tilt versus South Carolina tips at 1 p.m. and will be broadcast on ABC. Thursday’s game against UConn starts at 6:30 p.m.
No. 14 Maryland at No. 6 South Carolina
Sunday, 1 p.m.