In the wake of her team’s stunning ouster from the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, Maryland coach Brenda Frese posted a photo of the players, all smiling on the Alamodome court in San Antonio.
It’s a decidedly odd pose, given that the No.2 seeded Terps had just suffered a season-ending loss to Texas on the doorstep of what might have been a run to the program’s second national title.
It might be a preview of a future photo, say at next year’s Final Four site, Minneapolis’ Target Center, since Maryland may return its entire team with a roster that won 15 straight games – all by double digits – before things came crashing down in a 64-61 shocker Monday.
The Terps, who won the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles, should start the 2021-22 season as a national championship contender, but will need some tweaks in their formula to get there.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
Specifically, Maryland will get to Minnesota next spring if:
- They do a little growing up. With last season ending abruptly, thanks to the pandemic and players coming and going through graduation and transfer, the Terps had just one player on the roster who had played in an NCAA tournament game for Frese before the tournament started.
In addition, though Maryland stormed through the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, they had precious little experience in playing in close games this season.
The Terps had played in just one game decided by five points or less since mid-January, a two-point road loss to Ohio State. In key moments Monday, the team’s youth and inexperience reared their ugly head at the worst possible time.
“This is the first time that they’ve had the big lights on them for a lot of our team,” said senior Chloe Bibby, a transfer from Mississippi State. “Now, they’ve had a little bit of taste of it. I think we’re gonna want to go further.”
- They get battle tested (and maybe scarred) early. Frese can help her team get over the pain of Monday and help them mature by ramping up Maryland’s non-conference schedule. The Terps faced just two Top 25 non-Big Ten opponents – Missouri State and Arkansas this year in a November tournament. Admittedly, the pandemic wreaked havoc on scheduling, but Maryland’s cancelled games were against Towson, Coppin State and Mount St. Mary’s, whom they drubbed in an opening round NCAA tournament game.
The Terpscould desperately use a road game in a hostile environment, say at Connecticut or South Carolina or Baylor or even Stanford. Even a tough loss in November in one or more of those places could pay big dividends in March and April.
- They manage the roster.
The core of the Maryland attack – sophomores Ashley Owusu and Diamond Miller and freshman Angel Reese – will have a year of maturity under their belts.
Owusu, a combo guard and Miller, who emerged as a budding star, are likely to land on preseason All-America or National Player of the Year watch lists, while Reese, the No.2 rated recruit in the nation from St. Frances, is a star in the making, though she’ll need to develop a better perimeter game.
Add that trio to sophomores Mimi Collins and Faith Masonius and an incoming freshman class rated ninth overall and Frese will have a solid nucleus. The question will be what else will she have.
Bibby, an Australian native, guard Katie Benzan, who led the nation in three-point shooting and reserve Alaysia Styles – all transfers – are all either seniors or grad students. They would normally be leaving the program, except that the NCAA has granted athletes an extra year of eligibility because of COVID-19.
All may decide to try their hands at professional careers, though Frese said Monday she hopes they all return. If they do, Maryland’s quality of depth will match anyone in the game.
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.