Right now, we’re in the eye of the hurricane: 16 games played over 12 hours Thursday and 16 more to be played on Friday. Meanwhile, the Women’s NCAA Tournament rolls out 16 first-round games Friday and 16 more Saturday. We can breathe on Monday — I promise.
Maryland (21-8) has been able to breathe for the last two weeks, as they haven’t played since March 4 when they fell to Indiana in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament 62-51.
The team that began the season ranked fourth by the writers and fifth by the coaches dealt with multiple injuries that trimmed their rotation to seven players and kept starters Diamond Miller and Ashley Owusu on the shelf for extended stretches.
“This year we had some tough losses, we’ve dealt with illness, we’ve dealt with injury,” guard Katie Benzan said. “This year regarding those challenges-no matter what happened, we stuck together and we’re fighting. And that’s as much as we can hope. And we’ll continue to fight in March.”
Benzan is one of three players on this year’s team receiving All-American notice: while she and Owusu received Honorable Mention, sophomore forward Angel Reese was named Third Team All-American after averaging 18 points with 11 rebounds per game.
After playing the likes of Preseason No. 1 South Carolina, defending national champion Stanford and perennial power Baylor, along with a Big Ten Conference that had five teams finish in the Top 25, Reese and company are ready for what’s next.
“Seeing a tough schedule, we’ve seen everything. Everything has hit us. Different defenses have hit us,” Reese said. “I think we’re ready for anything — there’s nothing we haven’t seen.”
The Terrapins host the first weekend of the NCAA’s for the ninth time in 12 years, but having home-court advantage is no automatic pass to the regional round: they lost on the Xfinity Center floor as a No. 2 seed in 2016, as a No. 3 seed in 2019, and to Georgetown as a No. 4 seed in 2011. But they know full well the bonus of playing at home.
“You’re comfortable. You’re at your home site, you get to sleep in your own beds. That’s what you work for all year is to have that advantage,” Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said. “But at the end of the day you still have to be able to come out and put the 40 minutes together.”
Their first 40 minutes (at minimum) will be against CAA champion Delaware (24-7). The Blue Hens finished a game behind Drexel for the regular-season title but defeated the Dragons 63-59 to secure the automatic bid. Jasmine Dickey tallied 27 points with 18 rebounds in that game, and that’s not too far off the norm for the senior from Baltimore who averages 25 points and 10 boards.
Dickey is one of four senior starters on this team that reached the WNIT semifinals last March. Ty Battle also averages a double-double (12 points and 11 rebounds) and the Blue Hens led the CAA in rebounding margin.
Coach Natasha Adair guided Georgetown to a pair of WNIT appearances before leaving D.C. for Newark in 2017 and has a rotation of nine players who average more than 10 minutes per game. Tipoff slated for 5 p.m.
The other First Round game in College Park has Virginia Tech (23-9) facing Florida Gulf Coast (29-2). The Hokies finished No. 16 in the writers’ rankings and No. 23 in the Coaches’ Poll after losing in the ACC Semifinals to eventual champion NC State and went 5-7 against ranked foes this winter.
Former James Madison Coach Kenny Brooks is in his sixth year in Blacksburg and has guided the Hokies to consecutive NCAA bids for the first time since 2005. They’re led inside by Elizabeth Kitley (17 points and 10 rebounds per game) and outside by Georgia Amoore (11 points and 4 assists per contest).
The Eagles lost both of their games to Princeton in December and to Stetson in February. They’re led by former Ohio State guard Kierstan Bell (the junior transferred to the Atlantic Sun school after one season with the Buckeyes) who nets 24 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Twenty-five of their wins have come by double digits and they’ve beaten major conference schools like LSU and Michigan State on their way to the NCAA’s.
The men’s first round has already given us a 12-vs-5 upset (Richmond over Iowa). Could the women’s first round deliver the same? Tipoff at 2:30 p.m.