For every team’s unhappiness over a lower-than-expected seed in the NCAA tournament, there is an equal and opposite reaction from the opponent now subject to facing it. Call it Newton’s third law of bracketology.
So as the Maryland women’s basketball team groused at receiving the No. 3 seed in the Connecticut-headlined Bridgeport region, Bucknell coach Aaron Roussell felt a little worse about his team’s chances.
“It makes us kind of feel like more of a 15- or 16-seed,” he said before the teams’ tournament opener Friday.
The Big Ten champions — well, they looked more like a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. Led by senior All-Americans Brionna Jones (25 points, 10 rebounds) and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (28 points, five steals), Maryland set a program scoring record for an NCAA tournament game in an easy-as-it-looked 103-61 win before an approving home crowd of 3,511.
“We were clicking on all cylinders, just being patient but making really solid decisions,” said coach Brenda Frese, whose team finished with 22 assists and five turnovers and shot 58.3 percent from the field. “And obviously, you see when we’re not turning the ball over and giving ourselves extra opportunities, we’re really, really good.”
Sunday’s game figures to be tougher than Friday’s for Maryland. Seven of its first eight field goals against the Patriot League champions came at the rim; the other was an open 3-pointer. Fifteen of the Terps’ 18 first-half makes were layups.
It got only easier after halftime. A 15-3 run to start the third quarter emptied the bench; the shots kept falling anyway, Maryland finishing the period having shot 11-for-15 (73.3 percent).
“Maryland’s a very, very good team,” Roussell said, and the three Bucknell (27-6) seniors seated next to him on the dais nodded in silent agreement.
It was a feel-good win for the entire Terps roster, even for those players on the team who do not identify as a “morning person.” Before a noon tipoff, the wakeup call at Maryland’s hotel was 7:45 a.m. That was fine with Walker-Kimbrough, who had 11 points in the first 11 minutes as the Terps built a 12-point first-quarter lead.
Her roommate, sophomore forward Brianna Fraser, needed “a little bit” more rousing to get out of bed for an 8 a.m. breakfast of bacon and omelets, Walker-Kimbrough joked. Still, Fraser scored and rebounded; all 12 Maryland players who saw the court did.
As the Terps stars put away their first-round opponent — Jones (Aberdeen) and Walker-Kimbrough combined to shoot 23-for-35 overall — the lessons of last year’s second-round upset came to Frese’s mind. In a closer-than-expected first-round win over Iona last season, Walker-Kimbrough played 38 minutes.
This late in the season, Frese said, every minute you play affects your shot and your defense the next time up. She was happy to have had no Maryland player log more than 28 minutes.
“That’s always critical,” Frese said. “Sometimes that becomes your next-biggest element once you’re kind of able to pull apart. So we wanted to be able to get some rest for our starters. We know every round you advance, it gets that much harder in terms of what you’re looking at.”
The Terps are by now tired of talking about their No. 3 seed. “It’s just a number in front of our name,” freshman guard Destiny Slocum said after the game. And anyhow, by the end of the fourth quarter, another number was the focus of Maryland fans.
With 94 seconds remaining and the Terps having scored 99 points, the pep band chanted, “One more point.” When freshman wing Stephanie Jones (Aberdeen) hit a jumper to eclipse the program record of 100 points, set in a 1990 tournament game against Appalachian State, the Xfinity Center crowd roared one more time as the scoreboard flickered into triple digits. Then the Terps scored another layup 40 seconds later, just for good measure.