The fourth seeded Maryland women's basketball team took care of business Sunday defeating Army by a score of 90-52 in the first round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Standing between the Terps and a trip to Louisville are the fifth seeded Texas Longhorns who advanced to the second round with a 79-61 win over Penn. Terrapins fans shouldn't be deceived by the Longhorns' 22-11 record. They have only three losses outside their conference - which produced six NCAA bids and two teams with second seeds. Those losses came at Stanford, at Tennessee and at home to Syracuse. Like Maryland, Texas has one puzzling conference road loss a 54-48 loss at TCU in mid-January.
They say everything's bigger in Texas and that certainly applies to the Longhorns women's basketball team. Texas is as big as any team Maryland has faced. So it goes without saying that Tuesday's game will pose a considerably different challenge than Sunday's contest. Where Army featured guard Kelsey Minato, Texas' will attack inside with their very big front court starting with 6'7" Imani McGee-Stafford - but more on her in a bit. Sunday's game may have been good preparation in one respect as Texas is another squad that focuses on defense. Unlike the Black Knights however, the Longhorns will get out on the break when given the chance.
How the teams match up
As a team, Texas entered the NCAA Tournament with the fourth best field goal percentage defense in the country. They hold their opponents to just 34.4 percent shooting. Sunday's game did little to dispel that. Though Penn shot nearly 38 percent for the game, Texas held them two and a half percent below their season average.
Texas is not generally a great shooting team and their propensity for committing turnovers limits the number of shots they take. Though the Longhorns shot an impressive 51.8 percent against Penn Sunday, again, Terrapins fans shouldn't let this performance deceive them. Texas' depth simply wore down the Quakers who held them to 42.9 percent shooting in the first half just below the Longhorns' 43.5 percent season average. In the second half Quakers simply couldn't cope with the Longhorn's size and depth as Texas shot nearly 61 percent.
"We're going to have our hands full tomorrow night playing against a very good Texas team," said Maryland head coach Brenda Frese. "They're big, they're strong, and really really deep. They have the depth to be able to come in and try to wear teams out and obviously, they rebound extremely hard."
The coach's statements are borne out by a look at some statistical comparisons and in some ways, these teams are eerily similar. Take a look at rebounding for example. In the Brenda Frese era, Maryland has traditionally been one of the nation's best rebounding teams and this season has been no exception. Both Maryland and Texas had huge margins Sunday against over matched squads. However, they will find challenge each other on Tuesday. The Longhorns on the boards average 11.6 more rebounds than their opponents nearly the same as Maryland's 11.8 rebounding margin. "We have to come out and battle on the inside," said Alicia DeVaughn. "They're a big, huge team compared to us. We just can't fall mentally for that. We've just go to come out and play and be physical."
Then there's that depth thing. Frequently throughout the season, Maryland has been able to use its depth to wear opponents down but this will not be the case against Texas. The Longhorns regularly go nine or ten deep and no one averages more than twenty-six minutes a game. Sunday, Maryland played all thirteen on their roster and Texas played thirteen of the fourteen players on theirs. Neither team had a player on the court for thirty minutes. In fact, on average, Texas holds a 25-15 over their opponents edge in bench scoring and their most effective three point shooting comes from the bench as well.
One place Maryland will look to exploit is turnovers and guard play. Texas ranks 297th in the NCAA in turnovers committed. "It would be key to be able to play great Maryland defense," Frese added. We'd love to be able to cause turnovers and get out and be able to transition." Texas' guards have committed over 165 turnovers on the year. So the Terps may look to pressure them on the outside.
On the other end of the court, Maryland's guards shot lights out Sunday against Army and will need to shoot well again Tuesday night. "Our outside shooting is important," said freshman guard Lexi Brown, "but their big girl doesn't really leave the paint. Our three ball is going to be so important because if they're worried about us then we can pound the ball inside and try to get them in foul trouble."
Players to watch
Let's start with the player who averages 26 minutes would be Nneka Enemkpali (take that, spell check!). Enemkpali is a 6'1" junior forward who leads Texas in scoring and rebounds. As you can imagine, playing on a team that averages under seventy no one is going to be overwhelmed by her 12.3 point per game. She pulls down an average of 8.8 rebounds.
With the 6'1" Enemkpali playing on the wing, the Terps will be challenged in the post by Imani McGee-Stafford. McGee-Stafford is a 6'7" sophomore who comes in as the Longhorns' second leading scorer and rebounder. She averages 10.6 and 7.2 respectively but is the player who has been the greater force over the last third of the season since recovering from an early season injury. She's also a presence defensively blocking more than two shots per game. Texas doesn't lose much size when McGee- Stanford goes to the bench as Coach Karen Aston replaces her with 6'5" freshman Kelsey Lang.
One other player to watch is senior guard Chassidy Fussell. Fussell is the third player to average over ten points per game coming in at 10.4. She's led the Longhorns in scoring seven times this season including in their two Big 12 Tournament games.
Playing at home, should give the Terps an advantage. Maryland is 15-2 in the Comcast Center this season with their two losses coming to the country's two undefeated teams - UConn and Notre Dame. From my seat it looks like Maryland's keys to the game are to cause turnovers, rebound evenly and score. Texas is 2-5 in games where they've given up seventy points or more and one of those wins came in overtime at Oklahoma. Their only such win in regulation also came against the Sooners as the Longhorns took an 82-72 win in the Big 12 Tournament. But I've been wrong before.
Just a reminder. Tuesday will be your last chance to see Alyssa Thomas compete in a Maryland uniform at the Comcast Center. The weather might be crappy, but it should be worth the trip.