The No. 1-seeded Cardinal are the defending NCAA Tournament champions and haven’t lost since before Christmas.
“This is where you hope the adversity and the battles we’ve faced all season really pay off,” the Maryland coach told reporters during a Zoom press conference on Thursday.
Facing a No. 1 seed in the women’s basketball tournament is no easy task, and Stanford will be no different. The Cardinal (30-3) enter the Sweet 16 contest in Spokane, Washington, on a 22-game winning streak.
Making matters tougher for No. 4 Maryland (23-8): The Terrapins have already gotten a crack at Stanford this season, losing by 18 in November. However, Frese and star player Angel Reese were adamant Thursday that the loss against the Cardinal isn’t relevant.
“We’re a different team,” Frese said.
While every coach claims its team isn’t the same in March as it was in November, Frese isn’t just indulging in coachspeak.
When Maryland traveled to the Bahamas to play then-top 10 teams in North Carolina State and Stanford, the Terrapins were not at full strength. Diamond Miller, the team’s No. 3 scorer, was out with a knee injury, while sharpshooter Katie Benzan missed the trip with an illness.
Also in the loss to Stanford, Reese, a sophomore guard who led the Terrapins in scoring this season, played only 15 minutes before fouling out, and second-leading scorer Ashley Owusu was also in foul trouble.
“We’re a different team now,” said the Baltimore native Reese. “This game now is all we can worry about right now.”
The Terrapins are arguably the healthiest they’ve been all season, with the lethal trio of Reese (17.5 points per game), Owusu (14.7) and Miller (13.2) all at full strength. Reese, an All-American forward, had some of her minutes limited early in the season, while Owusu missed five games with a sprained ankle and Miller sat out 10 contests with a lingering knee injury.
So far in the NCAA Tournament, the trio has dominated. In Maryland’s first-round win over No. 13 Delaware, the three players combined for 62 of the team’s 102 points. Then, in a convincing win over No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast, the trio totaled 65 of the Terrapins’ 89 points.
“We’re finally fully healthy,” Frese said. “Diamond and Ashley are healthy and playing well. I really thought that connectedness between Diamond, Ashley and Angel — that’s what separates us. They set the tone, and we’re able to play through all of them. I think that’s why you’re seeing such great basketball.”
Stanford, meanwhile, has been healthy all season. While the Cardinal are led by Cameron Brink (13.5 points per game), Haley Jones (12.6) and Lexie Hull (12.3), they’re also a deeper team than the Terrapins, Frese said. And if Maryland’s path to the Sweet 16 has been easy, Stanford’s has been a cakewalk with a 41-point win over Montana State and a 26-point triumph over the Kansas Jayhawks.
“They’re a well-oiled machine. They’re the defending national champions for a reason,” Frese said. “They can all score it, and they flow within their offense. For us, it’s going to come down to disrupting, making it hard, trusting our defense.”
The contest is also an opportunity for Maryland to redeem itself after a disappointing conclusion last season. The No. 2-seeded Terrapins were upset by Texas in the Sweet 16 last year, ending the hopes of a national championship run for a Maryland team that lost only two games in the regular season.
“We have that feeling of last year’s Sweet 16 that we don’t want to feel again,” Reese said.
Tip for the game against Stanford is scheduled for 9:30 p.m.
• Jacob Calvin Meyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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