(AP) – Regardless of how Maryland fares in the NCAA Tournament, this squad will always be remembered by coach Brenda Frese for its ability to shine in the face of adversity.
Following an offseason in which they lost their top two scorers and a pair of assistant coaches, the Terrapins secured their sixth 30-win season under Frese and a second consecutive Big Ten championship. Second-seeded Maryland (30-3) will begin its quest for a third successive trip to the Final Four on Saturday against Iona (23-11) at home.
”We’re ready to take this as far as we can,” Frese said.
Frese won the NCAA championship at Maryland in 2006 and has made seven trips to the Sweet 16. This team is already notable for what it had to overcome to succeed.
An offseason of change began last April after the final buzzer of Maryland’s 81-58 semifinal loss to eventual champion Connecticut. Not only did the Terrapins lose senior Laurin Mincy, but guard Lexie Brown left the school, saying she was homesick.
In addition, longtime assistants Tina Langley and Marlin Chinn departed to become head coaches elsewhere.
”It was by far one of the toughest offseasons,” Frese said.
No matter. Maryland opened with 11 straight wins and, despite losing twice to Ohio State, bounced back to capture the Big Ten regular-season crown. The Terrapins backed that up by winning the conference tournament.
”This has been one of the most rewarding teams I’ve ever coached, so however it’s going to finish, it will go down that way,” Frese said. ”It’s been fun going in to coach this team – how they conduct themselves and who they are as people. They treat each other as a bunch of sisters. They’re really a tight-knit group.”
Senior Brene Moseley knows she’s good enough to start, but the Terrapins need her as a spark off the bench. So she gladly played the role of a reserve, averaging 11.4 points to go with her team-high 197 assists.
Asked to compare this season to the one that preceded it, Moseley said, ”It’s been harder but it’s definitely been more fun. It’s fun to continue building what we’ve been doing since the beginning.”
Shatori Walker-Kimbrough leads the team with 19.5 points per game. But there are a variety of contributors, including leading rebounder Brionna Jones.
”There was definitely a little adjustment that had to be made at the beginning of the season,” Jones said, ”but we embraced the change and moved forward.”
The only flaws in the season thus far have been a 10-point loss to No. 1 UConn and those two defeats against Ohio State. Since that second setback against the Buckeyes, Maryland has peeled off nine wins in a row.
Iona concluded the regular season with a second loss to Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champion Quinnipiac, but rolled through three games in the MAAC tournament and got revenge on the Bobcats with a 57-41 rout in the championship game to earn its first NCAA Tournament appearance.
The Gaels are one of the worst shooting teams in the tournament at 38.2 percent while Maryland, at 49.8, is better than everyone but UConn.
But if they’re hitting from 3-point range, they could keep it close. Iona has taken the seventh-most 3s in the tournament field (719) and is 10-0 when hitting at least nine. Alexis Lewis and Aaliyah Robinson are the Gaels’ best threats at 36.0 percent apiece while Joy Adams (14.6 points per game) and Marina Lizarazu (12.5) are their leading scorers.