Featured image courtesy of Maryland Athletics
The last time the Maryland women’s basketball team suited up for a game was March 8, when they beat Ohio State and sealed the deal on the Big Ten Championship. After over a week of waiting, and seeing where their male counterparts landed, the Terps now know their status in the NCAA Tournament: head coach Brenda Frese’s squad earned a no. 1 seed, and will face New Mexico State in the Spokane region. While winning their conference was a step in the right direction for the Terps, the tournament could bring out a few obstacles, some more challenging than others.
A non-Big Ten opponent: The New Mexico State Aggies are members of the Western Athletic Conference, and despite winning their first WAC title this season, enter the tournament seeded 16. The Aggies’ season started a bit shaky, as they lost their first five games, but finished up with a decent 22-7 record. As with the Terps, New Mexico State only has one senior, guard Jasmine Rutledge. They are led offensively by Sasha Weber, who averages a respectable 15 points per game. Brianna Freeman handles the glass for the Aggies, leading the team in both offensive and defensive rebounds, getting 3.3 and 4.8 per game, respectively. The Terps have to keep New Mexico State’s leaders restricted in order to run the game at their desired pace.
Playing on the road has not necessarily been a hurdle for Frese’s team. In the regular season and the Big Ten tournament, the Terps managed 15 wins away from College Park, 12 of which were over Big Ten opponents. Playing in all three rounds of the Big Ten Tournament allowed the team to experience what games played on a neutral court felt like, and apparently they liked it. In fact, in the first two games, Maryland finished the game with double-digit leads. If they can harness the in-game focus they possessed during the conference tournament, they shouldn’t be fazed by the new site of…oh wait, College Park, MD. The Terps will play at least the first round of the tourney on their home court, on Saturday, March 21. Should they make it deeper into the bracket, however, they could find themselves in a place like Tampa Bay.
Sticking to their identity has to be a central part of Maryland’s game plan if they hope to go far in the tournament. Throughout the season, the Terps leaned on each other and relied on not one dominant scorer, but a handful. At various points throughout the season, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, Brene Moseley, Lexie Brown, Laurin Mincy, and Brionna Jones all took their turns leading the Terps in scoring. Being able to rely on different members of the team, both within the starting five and coming off the bench, has helped the Terps outlast opponents this season. This approach will become all the more important if the team goes on to face opponents such as Duke or Princeton (members of their region of the bracket).
With a few exceptions here and there, the Terps did a pretty good job during the regular season of keeping their opponents’ scoring totals down (especially in mid-November where they only gave up 24 points in a win over non-Big Ten opponent Wagner). As the saying goes, offense wins games, but defense wins championships; this mantra must be at the forefront of Maryland’s mind as they start tournament play. Due to the nature of the tournament, the Terps will potentially face multiple teams they have never seen before. Occasionally this leads to offensive snags, so Maryland has to bring everything they’ve got on the defensive end if some of their shots aren’t falling.
Coming as a surprise to no one, Connecticut enters the tournament with an impeccable 32-1 overall record, and as of Sunday night was ranked number one in the country by both the AP and the USA Today Coaches’ Poll. But with such expected success comes some pressure. The Huskies will most likely float their way through the first few rounds of the tourney, with nothing to worry about but a target on their backs. If someone hits that target, though, it will be deemed an upset, regardless of the opponent. Like Maryland, the Huskies find ways to spread out their offense, getting high points from a bunch of players. They outscored opponents 89.7 to 47.7 on average this season, and are not afraid to shoot the three, which they do accurately (40.6% on the season). Thankfully, because they are both #1 seeds, Maryland could only face them in the Final Four.
Ultimately, the Terps should do well in this tournament. Coming off a Final Four appearance last season and a Big Ten Championship this season, the team knows the taste of success. To achieve more, they have to stick to what they do best and remind everyone they are a force to be reckoned with on the national level.