With fans back in arenas, the stage is set for arguably Maryland’s biggest home game of the entire season.
All eyes in the women’s college basketball world will be turned to College Park, where the No. 6 Baylor Bears take on No. 3 Maryland women’s basketball on Sunday.
“We’re really, really excited about this matchup,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “Long overdue, obviously, from last year, being able to have fans and having a great team like Baylor coming in.”
The Terps come into the matchup with a perfect record of 5-0, blowing by each of their first five opponents with ease. The average margin of victory for Maryland has been exactly 34 points, but no one should be expecting a winning gap of those proportions from either side Sunday.
In its last game on Thursday, Maryland throttled the UNC Wilmington Seahawks, 108-66. It was probably the most complete offensive performance the Terps have put forth all season, surpassing their season-high in scoring by 10 points. Sophomore forward/guard Angel Reese has been nothing short of special this season and put up her fourth double-double against the Seahawks with 27 points and 12 rebounds. What was perhaps more spectacular from her Thursday was her defensive performance, recording five steals and two blocks.
Sunday’s game is set for a 1 p.m. tipoff on Big Ten Network, marking the first national television game for the Terps this season.
Baylor Bears (3-0)
2020-21 record: 28-3 (17-1 Big 12)
Head coach Nicki Collen is in her first season at the helm of the Bears’ women's basketball program. Hired this past May 5, Collen spent the last three seasons as head coach of the Atlanta Dream. Collen was named the 2018 WNBA Coach of the Year after leading the Dream to a 23-11 record and a WNBA Semifinals appearance. Collen replaces the legendary Kim Mulkey, who left Baylor for Louisiana State this past spring. Mulkey is an all-time great and was the face of Baylor women’s basketball for 21 years, winning three national championships and earning AP Coach of the Year honors twice.
Another interesting storyline in this matchup involves former Maryland guard Chloe Pavlech, who returns to the Xfinity Center as an assistant coach for the Bears. Pavlech was a part of the Terps’ 2014 and 2015 Final Four teams and was also a 2013 ACC All-Freshman honoree.
“She better not be giving them all our secret plays,” Frese said of Pavlech’s return. “But, really excited. Chloe was someone here that was really, really dynamic. I mean, I definitely could see her as a coach, doing obviously great things to be able to get on at Baylor, so we’re excited to be able to welcome her back home.”
The Bears are coming off a successful 2020-21 season but it probably could have achieved more. Baylor blew a double-digit lead to Connecticut in last year’s Sweet 16, but it was without DiDi Richards, the 2020 Naismith Defensive Player of the Year, for the final 12-plus minutes. However, the Bears only return two starters from last season’s team.
Baylor has won its first three nonconference matchups, all against mid-major opponents. The Bears defeated Texas State by seven in their season-opener and followed that up with a blowout victory at UT-Arlington. Baylor has six days of rest, having last played Monday, defeating New Orleans, 78-39.
Players to know
NaLyssa Smith, senior forward, 6-foot-4, No. 1 — Smith will undoubtedly be the best player that Maryland has faced thus far. Smith led the Bears with 18 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, earning AP First Team All-American honors, winning the Katrina McClain Award for the nation’s best power forward and being named the consensus Big 12 Player of the Year. Smith has started strong this season, averaging 19 points and 11 rebounds in three games.
Queen Egbo, senior center, 6-foot-3, No. 4 — The matchup between Smith and Egbo and Reese and redshirt junior forward Mimi Collins is shaping up to be a dogfight. Egbo was a shot-blocking machine last season, averaging 1.9 blocks per game. She also averaged 11.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game en route to earning All-Big 12 Second Team accolades. So far this season, Egbo is registering 14.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game.
Jordan Lewis, graduate student guard, 5-foot-7, No. 3 — The Alabama transfer has made her impact felt in Baylor’s first three games, ranking fourth in points per game (11.7) while leading the Bears with five assists per game. Lewis is a rare sixth-year senior, having begun her Alabama career in 2016-17. Lewis excelled in the SEC last season, earning second-team all-conference honors while putting up 17 points and 4.2 assists per game.
All-around excellence. It is no secret that Baylor women's basketball is one of the premier programs in all of college athletics. The Bears may be a new-look team, but they have the pieces to once again be an elite squad in 2021-22. Last season, the Bears averaged 81.9 points per game and only allowed 55.3 points per game, both stats that led the Big 12. Luckily for them, they still have one of the best players in America with Smith.
A lot of new pieces. With a team that only returned 40% of its starters, brings in a new coach and has only played three mid-major opponents this season, it is hard to get a gist of how great this Baylor team is yet. The team undoubtedly has a lot of talent, with three former all-conference transfers making their Bears debut this season, but it needs to blend. Looking at it from the other side of things, a new team could make preparation more difficult for Frese and her staff. Maryland will be a major litmus test for Baylor’s chemistry.
“For sure, for sure,” Frese said on if preparing for a relatively new team is difficult. “Because I mean, what you do in the WNBA doesn’t necessarily transfer to the college level. So you’re not able to take a lot from that, and it has been challenging through the three games that they’ve played...but this is what early non-conference games look like. So, I expect, it’s talent versus talent on Sunday.”
Three things to watch
1. What’s up with Diamond Miller? Maryland’s star junior guard made her return to its lineup against UNC Wilmington but only played a tad over four minutes. She did some positive things, forcing a jump ball and nabbing an assist to Collins, but her time was limited. Frese indicated postgame that the plan was only to play her for a bit and see how her knee responds, but her situation is one to watch moving forward. If she can go against Baylor, it will be a huge boost to the Terps’ chances.
“We were off [Friday], so obviously we’ll evaluate her [Saturday],” Frese said. “But, really day-to-day, but obviously encouraged by last night. The minutes that she was able to get, I thought they were valuable. I thought she went hard. So for us, it’s just kind of seeing how she responds to every practice, to the games that we can get her into, but we were encouraged by last night.”
2. Can Angel Reese sustain her early-season greatness? It is hard to imagine what this Maryland team would look like without Reese right now. The Baltimore native is playing the best basketball of her young Maryland career, averaging 19.4 points, 12 rebounds and three steals per game. ESPN’s No. 2 recruit in the Class of 2020 has done it all on both ends of the floor, but a major step up in the competition will take place this Sunday. Despite the strong start, Reese remains humble and focused on the team’s goals ahead of Baylor.
“I’m not looking to prove anything myself, but, I mean, I want to win as a team,” Reese said. “So whatever it takes for me to help my teammates win and help us get this [win] Sunday. I mean, it’s a great challenge. We come to Maryland to play these top teams and having it to be in our home-court advantage is a great thing too, so I’m super excited.”
3. How will Shyanne Sellers fare against top-tier competition? Miller’s status is up in the air and junior guard/forward Faith Masonius has missed the last two games with an illness, meaning there are more minutes available off the bench. The good thing for Maryland is that highly-touted freshman guard Shyanne Sellers has been excellent in her first five games. Sellers is averaging 13 points per game, and recording an astounding nine assists against UNC Wilmington. If Sellers can continue to perform at a high level against Maryland’s gauntlet part of its non-conference schedule, the whole nation will be put on notice.
“She’s brought a lot,” junior guard Ashley Owusu said. “I’m super excited, I’m super happy that I get to play with her in my season here...just being able to kind of be a leader, just me being older than her, just being able to drop some of my wisdom down and just being able to help her along her freshman season.”