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Maryland women’s basketball leaning on new players to drive program, led by St. Frances star Angel Reese

During a recent practice for the Maryland women’s basketball program, redshirt freshman guard Zoe Young — the USA Today Player of the Year in Iowa who missed all of last season because of a torn ACL and is still unavailable after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery — took a shot from the court and made it. And freshman forward Angel Reese “went crazy for her,” according to coach Brenda Frese.

Frese recited that anecdote last week as an example of Reese’s leadership skills, and the Baltimore native and St. Frances graduate said taking charge even in her first year with the Terps is a familiar role.

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“It hasn’t been unusual for me because it started like that when I was in high school,” Reese said Tuesday. “I am the baby on the team, but I knew that I had to bring something different from everybody. My communication throughout practice, my leadership throughout practice, picking up teammates if they miss a shot, just always being there for my teammates, I know I can always bring that every day even if I don’t have the best game.”

The 6-foot-3 Reese is one of four new faces on 12th-ranked Maryland’s roster, which underwent significant upheaval from last season’s squad that went 28-4 and captured the Big Ten tournament title for the fourth time in the past six years.

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Three more players — Young, redshirt junior point guard Channise Lewis (torn lateral meniscus in left knee) and redshirt sophomore forward Mimi Collins (NCAA transfer rules) — did not suit up at all, meaning that sophomore point guard Ashley Owusu, sophomore guard Diamond Miller and sophomore forward Faith Masonius are the only returning players who played for the Terps last winter.

Maryland coach Brenda Frese, right, talks with guard Diamond Miller during a game against Ohio State in College Park on Jan. 6, 2020.
Maryland coach Brenda Frese, right, talks with guard Diamond Miller during a game against Ohio State in College Park on Jan. 6, 2020. (Julio Cortez/AP)

If the players are worried, however, they’re not showing it.

“We’re ready, we’re growing up,” Miller said. “Having these new faces is helpful because it’s really competitive. We’re attacking each other every day. Because of so many new faces, nobody’s position is safe. So we’re all attacking each other and trying to get to where we want to be, and it’s a lot of fun.”

The team’s inexperience was deepened by the transfers of junior forward Shakira Austin and junior shooting guard Taylor Mikesell. Austin, who averaged 12.0 points and 6.8 rebounds, departed for Ole Miss, and Mikesell, who scored 11.2 points per game and led the team in 3-pointers with 90, left for Oregon.

To offset those transfers, Frese successfully recruited a pair of seniors in guard Katie Benzan, who left Harvard with career averages of 13.7 points, 4.1 assists, and a .393 3-point field-goal percentage, and forward Chloe Bibby, who compiled 7.5 points and 5.2 rebounds last winter at Mississippi State.

Collins will be eligible after transferring from Tennessee, where she averaged 5.5 points and 3.4 rebounds. Forward Alaysia Styles, who averaged 8.4 points and 2.8 rebounds in 2018-19 at California, will use a graduate year when she joins Maryland sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“I think our team has really been built differently because of the fact that both Katie and Chloe have played at such a high level and have picked up things very quickly,” Frese said. “Mimi was working through all year with us. So it’s not like she’s someone new to the mix. They have picked up the defense very quickly, the offense. They’re jelling extremely well.

"We haven’t had a game and the fact that we’re not going to get any exhibitions and that you’re just going to go from zero to 100 will be very interesting. But I think that everybody is going to be thrust into the same position.”

Mississippi State forward Chloe Bibby shoots against Arkansas during a game Jan. 3, 2019 in Fayetteville, Ark.
Mississippi State forward Chloe Bibby shoots against Arkansas during a game Jan. 3, 2019 in Fayetteville, Ark. (Michael Woods/AP)

Benzan did not dispute the notion that the team might need time to develop some on-court cohesion.

“That’s definitely a possibility, but every day in practice, we’re starting to scrimmage more and more,” she said. “We have more and more scout guys come. So hopefully, we’re working towards that in practice and getting that chemistry to work five-on-five, running up and down so that when our first game comes, it’s more normal and natural to us.”

Bibby speculated that the coronavirus pandemic has actually helped the players because they have been isolated from everyone else and have spent plenty of time getting to know each other. She also said that a smaller roster has meant more time together on the floor.

“We’re getting reps every day,” she said. “We’re in practice, and we don’t stop. You don’t sit on the sideline. Usually, there are 15 people on a team, and you have a couple minutes to rest. There’s no breaks during practice. So I think that is helping us, and that’s going to get us ready for the season.”

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Lofty expectations have followed Reese, who is the highest-ranked recruit to ever play for the program after checking in at No. 2 in ESPN’s Top 100. But she knows that even if she can’t average a double double, she can provide a lift in other ways.

“Anybody can take on a role,” she said. “As a freshman, I had to take on a role of being a leader right away communicating with the team because I know that when I come to practice, there’s energy during the practice, and if my energy is down, I know that sometimes my team may be down.”

Bibby said Reese is usually the team’s emotional tone-setter.

“Angel has done that from Day One,” she said. “It’s nothing new to us. It’s expected at this point. If she doesn’t come out and compete, we’re like, ‘OK, what’s wrong? Let’s pick you up.’ We just want to win, and everyone has that mentality, and it’s just so great to see.”

NO. 12 MARYLAND VS. DAVIDSON

Gulf Coast Showcase, Estero, Florida

Nov. 27, 2:30 p.m.

Steaming: FloHoops.com

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