After four lopsided victories to begin the season, the sixth-ranked Maryland women's basketball team is set for a significant upgrade in opponents over the next week. The stretch of three straight games against Power Five schools starts today, when the Terps face No. 23 Arizona State in the first round of the South Point Shootout in Las Vegas.
Maryland (4-0) will draw another Pacific-12 team, Washington State, in Saturday's final round before moving on to the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, where a familiar adversary awaits. The Terps will face No. 4 Louisville on Thursday in their first trip back to the KFC Yum! Center since they beat the Cardinals, 76-73, on April 1, 2014, to advance to the Final Four.
"I think on both ends of the floor we'll see where we're at defensively. With such a young team, I feel like that's an area we have to continue to keep growing," Terps coach Brenda Frese said. "Offensively we're going to be facing a lot of pressure, so we'll need to take care of the basketball and not turn it over in addition to being able to execute."
The South Point Shootout will provide Maryland with its first glimpse at a level of competition it will face when Big Ten play begins in January, as well as in the spring in the NCAA tournament. The step up in class figures to be of particular benefit to the Terps' six freshmen after an opening week in which Maryland won by an average of 49 points.
The freshmen made up the top-rated recruiting class in the country, but they hardly broke a sweat last week in beating opponents such as UMES and Mount St. Mary's.
"It'll probably be a little different for them, a different environment, a ranked opponent," senior guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough said. "But I don't want them to overthink it. It's still basketball, and they've been playing great these first four games. Nothing should change in the way they play. They should just continue to play hard."
Most recently, Maryland defeated Niagara, 96-64, on Sunday in its first road game of the season. Point guard Destiny Slocum finished with game highs of 25 points, including 5-for- 10 on 3-pointers, and seven assists in 28 minutes. The performance prompted Niagara coach Jada Pierce to call Slocum one of the best freshmen she's seen in 20 years.
Slocum was the highest-ranked player at her position as a senior in high school and fills an immediate need after the Terps graduated both point guards from last season. She's second on the team in scoring (14.5 points per game) this season, a fraction behind Walker-Kimbrough.
In addition to Slocum, Maryland has redshirt junior Ieshia Small and freshman Sarah Myers as primary ballhandlers. Small, a transfer from Baylor who sat out last season under NCAA rules, had six assists against Niagara. Myers' best game so far came in a 106-61 win against UMES on Nov. 16, when she had nine assists with one turnover.
Turnovers have been a problem for Maryland over the past several years, but the Terps frequently have been able to counter with extra possessions because of their offensive rebounding supremacy. Maryland is second nationally in rebounding margin (plus-26 per game) and tied for 13th in turnover margin (plus-9.3).
In the Sun Devils (2-1), the Terps face an opponent that not only is forcing nearly 21 turnovers per game but owns a plus-16 margin in rebounding.
"It's obviously going to be better" competition, Slocum said. "We all know that they're a lot more talented than the four other teams we've played, but I think our mind-set is just going to stay the same as it's always been in the first four games. We can't change the way we feel about a game just because someone is more talented."
South Point Shootout
No. 6 Maryland vs. No. 23 Arizona State
At Las Vegas