It’s been more than two full years since Maryland women’s basketball last took the floor in an NCAA tournament game, but on Monday night the two seeded Terps will be back in the big dance as they face off against the No. 15 seed Mount St. Mary’s (17-6) in the Round of 64.
While the argument could be made the Terps deserved a 1 seed in the tournament after securing a 24-2 record and the Big Ten championship, the committee decided otherwise.
Maryland is a 2 seed in the Hemisfair region and will face the winner of No. 7 Alabama against No. 10 North Carolina if they can get by Mount St. Mary’s. The No. 1 seed in the region is defending champion South Carolina, who finished with four losses on the year.
“They understand they’re not going to make this bigger than it is,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “There’s been a great looseness, a lot of fun just like we’ve done all season long. So, I don’t expect anything to change.”
The Terps have experienced a hoist of tournament success during Frese’s tenure as head coach. Since Frese took over the program in 2003, Maryland has appeared in 15 NCAA tournaments, eight Sweet Sixteens, six Elite Eights, three Final Fours and has won one National Championship in 2006.
Despite all the success Frese’s previous teams have experienced, this may be her most talented offensive team yet. Maryland leads the country in scoring, averaging 91.3 points per game, the highest scoring team in program history.
The Terps also lead the country in three-point field goal percentage and assist/turnover ratio. Both the Terps 40.7% shooting from deep and 20.4 assists per game are on pace to break program records.
Maryland is the only team in the country with six players averaging double-digit points. Ashley Owusu and Diamond Miller lead the team in scoring averaging 18.3 and 17.2 points respectively. Both are on pace to have the highest scoring average of a sophomore in program history.
“I don’t want to try to do too much or do too little,” Owusu said. “Just come in and play the way I’ve always played and help my team.”
While the Terps have been smothered with both team and individual accomplishments thus far, including National Coach of the Year for Frese and an AP Third Team All-American for Owusu, nothing would mean more than the biggest prize of them all: an NCAA National Championship.
There’s a lot of work to be done to be the last one’s standing in San Antonio, but spectators and critics around the country certainly expect them to be one of the final teams to remain despite a lack of tournament experience from most players.
However, one Terp starter who does have tournament experience is Chloe Bibby, a senior transfer from Mississippi State. Bibby played on some elite Mississippi State teams that made deep runs into the tournament and now plays a key role on a Maryland team looking to do the same.
“For us, it’s just business as usual,” Bibby said. “We’re not going to go in and try to play outside of ourselves or do anything different because what we’ve been doing throughout the whole season has been working.”
First up is a matchup with the winners of the North East Conference in the Mountaineers. The in-state opponents were supposed to face off earlier this season as part of the non-conference schedule, but that game got delayed due to positive COVID-19 tests within the Mount St. Mary’s program.
While the Mountaineers have a balanced scoring attack, they turn the ball over just under 15 times a game. Maryland, on the other hand, loves to speed their opponents up defensively with traps, forcing over 20 turnovers per game. In all likelihood, the Terps will implement a full-court or ¾ court press early to try to turn defense into offense in its first round matchup.
“They’re very good inside and out,” Frese said. “They like to attack off the bounce, but for us we feel like we’re playing some of our best basketball.”
Frese has never lost a first round NCAA tournament matchup in her time at Maryland. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m. on Monday and will be broadcast on ESPN.