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No. 2 Maryland women’s basketball vs. No. 7 Stanford preview

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The Terps look to bounce back from their first loss of the season.

Courtesy of Maryland Athletics
UMTerps

No. 2 Maryland women’s basketball plays the second of its two games at the Baha Mar Pink Flamingo Hoops Championship on Saturday against the No. 7 Stanford Cardinal.

In its last game on Thursday against No. 5 NC State, Maryland suffered its first defeat of the season, falling to the Wolfpack, 78-60. Sophomore forward/guard Angel Reese starred with a career-high 24 points while also adding nine rebounds against another All-American in center Elissa Cunane.

The Terps were incredibly shorthanded, playing without two starters in graduate student guard Katie Benzan (illness) and junior guard Diamond Miller. Miller has been considered day-to-day with a knee injury since the beginning of the season, and Frese tabbed her as doubtful for Saturday. Junior guard/forward Faith Masonius, a key rotation player off the bench, also was out with an illness for the fourth straight game. Masonius and Benzan did not travel with the team to the Bahamas.

“I have always said, this adversity, you’re going to learn about a lot about your character and I thought we saw that in the Baylor game, and I thought our team showed that in the second half,” head coach Brenda Frese said postgame on Thursday. “I thought we were on our heels and credit to NC State, I mean they’re a top-five team for a reason.”

The Terps will have to respond to a regular-season loss for the first time since losing at Ohio State, 88-86, on Jan. 25. Maryland followed up that loss with 15 straight victories before falling to Texas in the Sweet 16 of last season’s NCAA Tournament.

Saturday’s game will tip at 3 p.m. and air on FloHoops. Now, let’s take a look at the reigning national champions.

Stanford Cardinal (4-2)

2020-21 record: 31-2 (19-2 Pac-12)

Head coach Tara VanDerveer has led the Stanford women’s basketball program since the 1985-86 season. The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer is simply a legend, and that may be an understatement. She is the all-time winningest coach in women’s college basketball history and took the Cardinal back to the top of the basketball world with her third national championship last season. Per the Stanford Athletics website, VanDerveer has more wins than all but seven programs in the nation.

Stanford started its season on a high note, trouncing Morgan State, but fell to then-No. 25 Texas at home in its second game of the season, 61-55. The Cardinal recovered nicely after the early blip, winning against Portland and at Gonzaga before heading to the Bahamas. Against No. 4 Indiana in its tournament-opening game, Stanford squeaked by the Hoosiers, 69-66. The next day, the Cardinal was upset in a 57-54 loss to No. 18 South Florida.

Players to know

Haley Jones, junior guard, 6-foot-1, No. 30 — The Most Outstanding Player from last season’s Final Four, Jones is back for more for Stanford. She was unavailable against Gonzaga and came off the bench against Indiana, as her playing time gets seemingly affected by an injury. In four games played, Jones is averaging 9.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per contest. Against South Florida, Jones did not score a single point in 32 minutes of action.

Lexie Hull, senior guard, 6-foot-1, No. 12 — A two-time All-Pac 12 honoree, Hull is in her fourth year as a part of the Stanford program. Hull has a knack for the ball on defense, leading Stanford with three steals per game. The veteran struggled against Indiana, scoring three points on 1-of-6 shooting and fouling out of the game. She also only had three points against the Bulls, bringing her down to 8.5 points per game. Despite that, Hull, along with her twin sister Lacie, is a big returning piece of this Cardinal squad.

Cameron Brink, sophomore forward, 6-foot-4, No. 22 — Brink was historically good against Indiana, putting up 21 points, 22 rebounds, five assists and five blocks. Per Em Adler of TheNextHoops.com, it was the first game with a 20/20/5/5 slash line since 2016. Brink was also incredible against South Florida, dropping 23 points and grabbing 11 boards. She is Stanford’s leading scorer and rebounder at 15.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Brink versus Reese will be an interesting matchup considering Reese’s rebounding prowess thus far.

Strength

National championship pedigree. Though it is not the top-ranked team in the nation this season, Stanford is still the reigning national champion, and no one can take that away from it. The Cardinal return four starters from last year’s finale, with the lone exception being current Seattle Storm draft pick Kiana Williams. Stanford is also pretty deep; 13 players received playing time against Indiana.

Weakness

Three-point shooting. Stanford has not shot the rock that well from deep in its first five games. Stanford has made just 30.1% of its threes, a mark that probably will not run any teams out of the gym regardless of how good of a team it is. For comparison, Maryland is shooting 35.3% from deep in a larger sample size, even with two of those games being without Benzan.

Three things to watch

1. Can Maryland make the most out of the miles it has? With the injuries and illnesses that have hit the team, Maryland has no choice but to deal with the hand it was dealt. Frese used a six-player rotation against the Wolfpack, and the sixth player was sophomore guard Taisiya Kozlova, who played over 24 minutes. Kozlova usually only gets spot minutes but was forced into action and did not score a single point.

Graduate student forward/guard Chloe Bibby played the whole game, and three other players played for at least 30 minutes. With only seven players in a different country and only five of those seven being true rotation players, the Terps are in a very difficult spot. Everyone is going to play a ton of minutes, and Maryland needs each player to maximize them.

2. The Terps need to deliver the first punch. On Thursday, the Wolfpack came out blazing and hit Maryland right in the mouth. NC State hit exactly half of its shots in the first quarter, while Maryland only shot 25% in the frame. The Terps need to be ready to roll immediately to have a chance against the national champions. If someone on the court is not playing well from the jump, there is not that usually impressive bench presence waiting in the wings. A fast start would do wonders for the Terps.

3. Look for Maryland to move away from shooting so many three-pointers. Katie Benzan is the best three-point shooter in the country. At least she was last year when she made exactly half of her attempts. In her first five games this year, Benzan has picked up on that note, making 47.1% of her threes. Without her, the offense is much different. Sets designed for her are out the window, and the Terps do not necessarily have that automatic threat waiting to strike in order to make a comeback or start a run.

In Thursday’s postgame presser, Frese expressed her disapproval of the number of threes the Terps took, especially without their best player. Maryland is an inside-out team, but it needs to find a concrete identity without Benzan to have success against Stanford.

“To not have Katie Benzan in here and to shoot 24 threes is way too many threes for us to be able to put up in this game,” Frese said during Thursday’s postgame presser. “I thought we settled. I thought we got tired.”