After a disappointing loss to Washington in the second round of the 2016 NCAA tournament, the Terps will return to their home floor on Friday, hoping to avoid another early exit.
The first-round opponent for Maryland will be the 14th-seed Bucknell Bison.
Bucknell comes into the tournament after winning the Patriot League conference tournament for the first time since 2008. The Bison, who come in with a 27-5 record, posted their highest win total in school history this season and were crowned Patriot League regular season conference champions after going 16-2 in the conference slate.
“They’re a very well-coached, really disciplined team,” Brenda Frese said. “They’re a team that doesn’t beat themselves.”
The Bison, coached by Patriot League Coach of the Year Aaron Roussell, did not play any ranked opponents this season, and faced only one team in the current NCAA Tournament field—a 64-58 loss to No. 11 seed Elon, a team that will also be in College Park this weekend.
The only two common opponents between Bucknell and Maryland are Loyola (Md.) and Rutgers. The Bison lost to the Scarlet Knights 57-53 on Dec. 3 while the Terps defeated Rutgers 80-71 on Jan. 22. The Bison also defeated Loyola three times this season by an average of nine points, while the Terps defeated the Greyhounds 79-60 on Dec. 12.
Roussell’s team went 17-1 in conference play last season, but were upset in the Patriot League semifinals. This year, the Bison were not going to be denied a trip to the NCAA Tournament. After a three-point victory over Loyola in the quarterfinal, Bucknell easily defeated American to advance to the conference championship game against Navy.
In that title game, a late 3-pointer from Navy’s Ashanti Kennedy in the final seconds sent the game to overtime, but the Bison prevailed with a 79-71 extra time victory. Senior forward Claire DeBoer was the star for Bucknell, scoring 30 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field and 5-of-6 shooting from 3-point range, and grabbing 10 rebounds in the win.
DeBoer has been the star for Bucknell all season, and was unanimously named Patriot League Player of the Year. The senior averaged 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, while shooting 49.2 percent from the field, 37.5 percent from 3-point range and 81.9 percent from the free throw line. She is what makes Bucknell a dangerous team, despite the No. 14 seeding.
“Once the [tournament] starts, everyone’s record is 0-0,” Shatori Walker-Kimbrough said. “Especially at this point, every team is good, no matter what number is in front of their name.”
The senior forward is usually slotted at the small forward, but can move into the post and present matchup problems for opposing post players. Brenda Frese will presumably match Shatori Walker-Kimbrough up with DeBoer on the perimeter, and she will be the player the Terps will need to key in on during Friday’s game.
DeBoer’s play on the inside represents Bucknell’s greater offensive gameplan, which is to get the ball inside. Forwards Sune Swart and Kaitlyn Slagus are the only other two Bison players who average double-figures scoring, and both shoot over 50 percent from the floor.
When the Bison go inside, however, they will have to deal with First Team all-Big Ten selection Brionna Jones. The Terps’ center is averaging 19.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game this season, and is leading the country in field goal percentage at 69.8 percent. The battle of Jones versus Swart and Slagus down low could decide the game.
Where the Terps have the biggest advance is in guard play, a spot in which the Bison struggle. Maryland’s four starting guards have been dominant on both ends this season, with Walker-Kimbrough having the best season of them all. She is averaging 18.6 points per game and shooting 44.7 percent from long range, good for ninth-best in the country.
If Maryland’s guards can keep up the high-level play, the Terps shouldn’t have any problem advancing past Bucknell into the second round. It will be an interesting test against the nation’s 40th-ranked scoring defense, but Maryland’s top-ranked scoring offense should have the firepower to prevail.
“Teams that can score are the teams that have the most success,” Frese said.
The matchup between the Terps and Bison will tip off at noon on Friday at Xfinity Center. The game can be seen on ESPN2.
Edited by Maggie Gottlieb.
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