After 2020 saw the cancellation of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, this March has been a gift. But the gift of each March carries with it an expiration date: 48 of the 64 schools went home last week, and by Tuesday, only four schools will remain in San Antonio.
For the Maryland women’s basketball team, this entire season has been a gift for Coach Brenda Frese.
“They’ve been just a joy to coach in a really difficult situation,” Frese said. “I think this team has given a lot of our Maryland fans and the people supporting us a lot of joy to be able to see this team and how far they’ve come.”
This year’s team is like none other Coach Frese has had in her tenure.
While she’s had transfers in the past who have contributed, this year’s team has three transfers starting: Katie Benzan (Harvard) led the nation in three-point shooting (over 50% from outside the arc), Mimi Collins (Tennessee) stepped up when freshman Angel Reese missed two months with a foot injury, and Chloe Bibby (Mississippi State) tried to put her finger on the joy this team has together.
“The chemistry on this team is just off the charts. We get along so well on and off the court and I think that translates. That’s why we’re able to have so much fun while we’re playing and I think you can see that,” Bibby said. “I think that’s what makes this team oh so special.”
Maryland meets No. 6 seed Texas in the Regional Semifinals (9 p.m. Sunday tipoff on ESPN), a round that the Terps are 6-2 in under Coach Frese. The broad brush would paint this matchup as Maryland’s high-octane offense (tops in the nation at over 90 points per game) against the Longhorns’ stingy defense (63 points allowed per game while holding Bradley and UCLA to 62 points apiece in the NCAA Tournament).
“They do a tremendous job on the glass and defensively they want to turn you over,” Frese said. “They want to force you into a lot of pressure situations.”
Texas held UCLA to 1-19 from three-point range in its Second Round victory, but the Longhorns haven’t met a team like the Terps this winter.
“That’s fine that they’re a defensive team but they’ve still got to try to stop us. We’re the best offense in the country,” Bibby said. “We’ve proven that day in and day out.”
And even though the Terps are viewed as the offensive powerhouse, they’ve turned opponents over 19.5 times per game in the tournament.
“I think you’re going to see both teams want to turn each other over,” Frese said. “Which team is going to be more successful at it and going to be able to capitalize through those turnovers to finish plays — I think it’s going to be an important element in this game.”
The Longhorns are led by 6-foot-5 forward Charli Collier, who averages 19 points and 12 rebounds per game while shooting 52% from the field. But the Terps have made a point to deny their opponent’s major weapon in this year’s NCAA Tournament, from holding Mount St. Mary’s leading scorer Kendall Bresee to 0-10 shooting in the First Round to limiting Alabama’s Jordan Lewis to 2-9 shooting two days after she scored 32 points.
Meanwhile, Maryland has six players averaging in double figures during the NCAA’s. Can the Terps come together again to earn two more days of togetherness for the team and anticipation for their fans?