Maryland women’s basketball enters its 51st season with the highest of aspirations. Year after year, this program expects greatness, and rightfully so.
Since joining the Big Ten in 2014, the Terps have simply dominated. Quite frankly, dominated might not be a strong enough word to describe how elite this program has been. Head coach Brenda Frese has led Maryland to a combined 11 conference regular season and tournament championships in that time span, winning at least one in every single year except 2018.
The Terps capitalized on that success last season, going 17-1 in conference play and winning the Big Ten Tournament to sweep both titles. Maryland’s success led to a No. 2 seed in the 2021 NCAA Tournament, and everyone was looking forward to a date with No. 1 South Carolina with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
However, at the pinnacle of Maryland’s season, the Terps were shocked. The Terps were upset by No. 6 Texas in the Sweet 16, 64-61, and in the blink of an eye, a potentially special season was over. A Kyra Lambert layup with 45 seconds to play put the Longhorns in front, and they never looked back. A potentially magical season for the Terps ended, just like that.
The disappointing loss led to one clear mantra: complete the mission. “#TheMi22ion” will be seen all over the Terps’ socials this year, and it is clear what that is. Last year, Maryland felt it came up short. The mission is not only for Maryland to get past that but to find its way to the top of the college basketball universe.
“Our motto this season, some of you have heard, is complete the mission,” Frese said. “Obviously, we were disappointed. Phenomenal season winning the Big Ten, Big Ten Tournament, but for us in our postseason, we didn’t meet the goals that we had set for ourselves.”
Maryland blew through its two exhibitions against Division II opponents Fairmont State and Georgian Court, recording at least 120 points in both and winning the latter by 92. The Terps seem ready to go as the Nov. 9 opener against Longwood is just days away.
Key Players Lost
Fortunately for the Terps, more than 95% of their scoring from the nation’s best offense in 2020-21 returns.
The only consistent rotation player not back for Maryland this season is guard Alaysia Styles. After three seasons at California, Styles spent one at Maryland. Styles averaged 4.9 points on 60.5% shooting from the field in 15.6 minutes played per game. The San Diego product, who appeared in 21 games last season, is using her fifth year of eligibility at Syracuse.
Guard Zoe Young is the other player who will not be suiting up for Maryland this season. Young remains with the program though, transitioning to a student assistant under Frese.
In year 20 for Frese, the Terps are simply loaded with returning talent. Maryland returns all five starters, and three of its seniors from last season decided to use the extra year of eligibility provided by the NCAA. But, it is no secret that Maryland’s success starts with its star-studded backcourt.
Running the offense for Maryland will be junior guard Ashley Owusu. Last year, Owusu was nothing short of excellent. She was flowered with postseason awards, including the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award for the nation’s best shooting guard. The AP Third Team All-American and First Team All-Big Ten honoree dominated the Big Ten, registering 17.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game.
This season, Owusu has been named to the Nancy Lieberman Award Watch List for the country’s best point guard. An elite passer with the ability to score at will, Owusu comes into the 2021-22 season as one of the most highly-touted players in college basketball. Her backcourt counterpart, junior guard Diamond Miller, will pair with her to make a lethal duo.
Not far behind Owusu was Miller, averaging 17.3 points per game in her sophomore season. Like Owusu, Miller was named to the All-Big Ten First Team. Both players were named Co-MVPs of the 2021 Big Ten Tournament, but it was Miller who perhaps took more strides in the NCAA Tournament. The Somerset, New Jersey, product led the Terps in scoring in the postseason and dropped 21 points in the finale against Texas.
“Just coming in with the same mindset I had last year,” Miller said on sustaining her success. “Being the underdog and always working hard and doing what I need to do on the court for my team. So, making buckets is a part of that, so I just have to continue to make shots.”
Miller had nearly a 10% shooting increase from her freshman to sophomore year and needs to continue that for Maryland to have success against great teams. Miller is currently day-to-day per Frese and is expected to miss some time as she rests with knee pain. Her situation is one to monitor as Maryland’s intense non-conference schedule heats up.
Joining Miller on the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award Watch List is graduate student guard Katie Benzan. Benzan shined in her first year at Maryland after spending three at Harvard. She was named Second Team All-Big Ten after leading the nation in three-point shooting, making exactly half of her threes. Benzan did not skip a beat in the two exhibitions, going a combined 12-16 from distance.
“Confidence for me comes from my [workouts],” Benzan said. “I know I’ve put in all the reps, I know I’ve spent all those hours in the gym. And so when I know that I’ve put all those shots up, I’ve made them, in the game it’s no different.”
Benzan was not the only transfer to shine at Maryland in her first season. Despite never visiting the school before committing, graduate student forward/guard Chloe Bibby came to College Park after three years at Mississippi State and found her role immediately. Last season, Bibby averaged 13.2 points and six rebounds per game on 36.1% shooting from deep. Outside of turnovers, Bibby improved every main offensive stat from her junior to senior year.
“I think [2020-21] was a learning year for everyone because it was such a young team,” Bibby said. “It also, I think it was just a fun year. We didn’t know what we were gonna get, we didn’t know if we were going to be able to play our next game. So I think it was just enjoying every game and taking every day as you could, because we never knew when it was gonna be taken away.”
While the aforementioned four players will fill out a healthy starting lineup, the “5” spot is more interesting.
Sophomore forward/guard Angel Reese seems to be the favorite to start, especially after her exhibition performances. ESPN’s former No. 2 recruit in the class of 2020 looks ready to explode this season. Though it was against weak competition, Reese dominated the two exhibition matches. She put up two double-doubles, averaging 18.5 points and 11 rebounds in the two games.
The Baltimore native missed 14 games of her freshman campaign due to a foot injury but came back strong in late February. Reese had a massive NCAA Second Round game against Alabama with 19 points, five rebounds, two assists and one block. With her size at 6-foot-3, Reese could be one of the Terps’ best athletes.
“It was tough, but I felt like it was God’s plan,” Reese said on her injury. “I mean, I got hit with that early in the beginning of [last] season, because I was crushing it...so it was kind of tough coming back here and not being able to play, but I think mentally, it prepared me and got me stronger and matured me a lot.”
The other big alongside Reese is redshirt junior forward Mimi Collins. Coming over from Tennessee after the 2018-19 season and having to redshirt, Collins did not disappoint in her first action in front of Maryland fans. She averaged 10.6 points per contest and showed her ability to extend her game with a 38.9% mark from beyond the arc. Collins led the team in rebounding last season with 6.2 boards per game.
Maryland could deploy bigger lineups with both Collins and Reese on the floor, as seen in the exhibition. Depending on how long Miller is out for, fans could be seeing more of that.
Another main contributor off the bench will be junior guard/forward Faith Masonius. One of 10 siblings, Masonius showed a ton of flashes, improving vastly from her freshman to sophomore season. The former top-50 recruit averaged 6.8 points and five rebounds per game on 54.7% shooting from the field. Along with Benzan, Collins and Reese, Masonius was part of a group that took home the silver medal at the 2021 Red Bull USA Basketball 3X Nationals.
“At this point, it’s kind of just tightening up little things, like different ball handlings, getting comfortable on the court, just knowing my teammates and finding like the different role to play this year,” Masonius said. “Because every year is gonna be different, every team is different...I’m just very excited for this junior jump.”
Other returnees from last year’s squad include graduate student guard Channise Lewis and sophomore guard Taisiya Kozlova.
Lewis did not appear in either of Maryland’s exhibitions and is working her way back from a season-ending knee injury for the second time in her career. Lewis can really shoot the rock — as her 36.1% three-point percentage shows — but has had awful injury luck. In her fifth year, Lewis has proved resiliency and persistence as she works her way back.
“Being mentally positive each day,” Lewis said on her attitude for this season. “I know sometimes, every day is not gonna be the best and I know that from experience to my first injury, so I think that definitely helped me going into this injury...as long as you keep pushing and knowing that the next day the sun’s gonna rise, you’re gonna be okay.”
Kozlova was sparingly used as a freshman, averaging 2.3 points in 20 games off the bench in 2020-21. Hailing from Moscow, Russia, Kozlova played well in the two exhibitions, averaging seven points and 25.5 minutes.
Frese brings in no transfers, but two freshmen look to form a promising class.
Donning the number zero for the Terps will be guard Shyanne Sellers, ESPN’s No. 22 recruit in the class of 2021. The daughter of former Chicago Bull Brad Sellers was dominant at Aurora High School, winning League MVP four different times. She averaged 21.9 points, 10.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game her senior year.
There is a ton of buzz around Sellers heading into the season, and fans got a first glimpse of her in the exhibition games. She showed legitimate ability to run the offense, manning the point guard duties for extended periods of time. Sellers has great size at 6-foot-2 and can score at all three levels. Sellers averaged 17.5 points in the preseason games, including an 8-11 shooting performance against Georgian Court.
“[Shyanne’s] playing multiple positions as a freshman, which isn’t always easy,” associate head coach Karen Blair said postgame after the Georgian Court exhibition. “But she allows us to coach her really hard and to be coached, and she wants to be great.”
Sellers’ freshman counterpart is forward Emma Chardon. Chardon looked raw at times in the exhibitions, but ultimately got comfortable and put up solid numbers. Chardon went 4-5 in both games, respectively. From Switzerland, Chardon needs to adjust from the European game to women’s college basketball, but she has a ton of talent to do so. Chardon averaged 18.4 points and 11.3 rebounds per game on 53.7% shooting for the Swiss National Team at this past summer’s FIBA Euro Challengers.
If all the pieces of the puzzle connect, Maryland could be cutting down the nets four separate times. To Frese, there are parallels between this team and the 2006 national champion squad.
“I think the thing that jumps out, first and foremost, is just the total team’s ability to score the basketball,” Frese said. “That ‘06 team had five players average in double figures, this team has six. The thing that’s different with this team is they don’t turn the ball over like the ‘06 team did. So they have separated themselves, I think the ‘06 team, though, was probably a better rebounding team.”
The Terps will be tested early with an incredibly difficult non-conference schedule, playing four of the top-seven preseason teams. Maryland will play host to No. 7 Baylor on Nov. 21 and will then take the trip to the Bahamas for the Baha Mar Hoops Pink Flamingo Championship. There, the Terps are set for a Thanksgiving matchup against No. 5 North Carolina State and a showdown with No. 3 Stanford just two days later. To wrap up that brutal stretch will be a trip to Columbia against No. 1 South Carolina on Dec. 12.
“When you look at our non-conference schedule, the toughest schedule we will have ever played,” Frese said.
In addition to its non-conference slate, the Big Ten shapes up to be one of the best conferences in the nation. Maryland was projected to win the conference by both coaches and media, but four other ranked teams reside in the league. The Terps will play No. 8 Indiana, No. 11 Michigan and No. 17 Ohio State twice while squaring up with No. 9 Iowa once.
Maryland will be tested often as it searches for its sixth Final Four appearance and second national title. Its difficult schedule will only help its preparation for March, and it will be fascinating to see how it plays out. Without a doubt, 2021-22 could be special for this program.