Maryland women’s basketball faces its first real challenge against No. 6 Baylor

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

The start of the season could not have gone smoother for the Terps. They won their first five games by at least 21 points each. Sunday, however, will likely be a different story.

A lot of eyes will be on the matchup between third-ranked Maryland and sixth-ranked Baylor. This will serve as the first real test for both teams. The two will share the court with the same goal of obtaining a keen 6-0 record.

“We’re excited about our next opportunity to play a great opponent and to be able to see where we’re at so early in non-conference play,” said coach Brenda Frese.

Former Baylor coach Kim Mulkey turned the team around into a consistently dominant force in women’s basketball. For over a decade, the Bears never lost more than five games in a single season.

Earlier this year, however, Mulkey departed from Baylor to coach at Louisiana State, leaving the team in a precarious spot.

The Bears were able to find a credible replacement in former WNBA Coach of the Year Nicki Collen. Despite the coaching change, recent games have proven that they can still play like one of the best teams in the nation.

“[This is the] same Baylor team when you talk about just a talented roster led by their all-American with NaLyssa Smith and just, you know, four players that average in double-figures,” said Frese. “[This is] a team that plays extremely well together.”

Maryland will indeed have its hands full against the versatile forward NaLyssa Smith. For players like forward Angel Reese, they are up for the test.

“It’s a challenge,” said Reese. “We come to Maryland to play these top teams, and having it to be in our home-court advantage is a great thing too. So, I’m super excited.”

For Maryland, the key to defeating Baylor is the defense.

“We know that these are two great teams that are offensively great,” said Reese. “We both have great players on each team, but I feel like it’ll come [down to] who’s disciplined on defense.”

In the Thursday blowout against UNC Wilmington, star guard Diamond Miller made her debut off limited minutes after weeks of battling a knee injury. There is optimism that she could play against Baylor, however, she currently is listed as day-to-day.

“[We were] obviously encouraged by last night, you know, the minutes she was able to get,” said Frese. “I thought they were valuable. I thought she went hard. So, for us, it’s just kind of seeing how she responds to every practice.”

The tune-ups are behind the Terps. Sunday’s Baylor match is only the beginning of a seven-game stretch in which they will play fifth-ranked NC State, seventh-ranked Stanford, and top-ranked South Carolina.

“I thought with the first five games, we were going to need to get our timing and our rhythm together,” said coach Brenda Frese. “But, honestly, when you look at the next seven, we’re going to have a really good gauge of where we’re at as a team.”