The Maryland women’s basketball team waited and waited Sunday for the promised onslaught of three-pointers from Florida Gulf Coast, the nation’s most three-happy squad.
True to form, the Eagles kept firing threes, but they didn’t fall. Meanwhile, the Terps used their superior size to club Florida Gulf Coast inside and harangued them defensively on the perimeter.
The result: A convincing 89-64 win in the second round of the NCAA tournament that propels Maryland into the Spokane regional semifinal next weekend.
The Terps (25-8), who under coach Brenda Frese, have earned a reputation as a program that emphasizes scoring, played perhaps their best defensive game of the season, given FGCU’s prowess at shooting the three.
The Eagles shot just 38.5% overall from the field, and just 11-of-35 (31.4%) from three-point range.
“We adjusted some things away from what we normally do defensively,” said Frese. “We went back to Maryland basketball, and we made the adjustment that we were kind of more comfortable with. I thought it got us playing harder, more aggressive. You started seeing where the confidence grew on the defensive end.”
With junior perimeter player Diamond Miller and sophomore forward Angel Reese at the helm of the defense, Maryland used superior height and length to harass the undersized Eagles along the perimeter.
“We realized we weren’t talking and we were just kind of playing off each other, but you need to communicate on defense, and I think we did that,” said Miller, who also had a game-high 24 points. “Communicating, pointing at each other so everybody knew what was going on and we understood their offense and their game plan and we executed our defense.
Forward Kierstan Bell, the two-time Atlantic Sun Player of the Year, had 14 points on 6-for-20 shooting, including a 2-for-13 performance from three-point range. She consistently drew attention from Miller and Reese, whose long arms and quickness bottled Bell up.
“I was very frustrated,” said Bell. “Things weren’t going our way. But I was just trying to stay together with my teammates. They were encouraging me throughout the half. But this isn’t what we wanted,”
Said FGCU coach Karl Smesko: “They (Maryland) had really good ball pressure, and they switch a lot of things, and they have great length at a lot of positions,” said FGCU coach Karl Smesko. You just have to give them credit. They turned their defense up another notch, especially late in the half and for the whole second half.”
On offense, the Terps broke open a first quarter tie with crisp ball movement in the second quarter, closing the half on a 9-0 burst to take a 47-39 halftime lead.
“I think this (was) a really fast-paced game,” said Reese (St. Frances). “Some of us are tired. I think us getting back up and down the court and getting this win, I think it’s good for us, especially for me. But I think that we just slowed them down a lot in the second half.
The run continued into the third quarter, where Maryland extended their lead to 21 with just under four minutes to go in the period.
Reese had 21, hitting 11-of-14 free throws. Guard Ashley Owusu posted 20 points in her best game since hurting her ankle late in the season.
The Terps will make their 19th trip to the Sweet Sixteen in program history and the 10th journey for Frese while at College Park.
Sports Media Analyst
Milton Kent is a veteran of Baltimore and Maryland journalism. Kent began a long association with the Baltimore Sun in 1985, serving as the Evening Sun’s Howard County reporter for 2 ½ years before joining the paper’s features department as an entertainment writer in 1988. In the following year, Kent began covering men’s and women’s college basketball for the Evening Sun, concentrating on the Maryland men’s and women’s teams. He continued covering college basketball when the writing staffs of the Evening and Morning Suns merged in 1991. From there, he covered the Orioles for three seasons before becoming one of the nation’s first fulltime sports media critics for parts of six years. In 2000, he began covering the NBA until 2004, when he launched a high school sports column, which he wrote until he left the Sun in 2008. Kent joined the staff of AOL Fanhouse, an online sports operation in 2009, covering sports media and women’s basketball, until operations ceased in 2011. He then joined the faculty at Morgan State University in the fall of 2011, where he has taught until the present day. In addition to writing for various platforms, including Sports Illustrated.com and TV Guide, Kent has hosted “Sports At Large,” a weekly commentary program airing on WYPR (88.1 FM) since 2002.