A 6-0 start quickly unraveled in the Bahamas over Thanksgiving for No. 8 Maryland women's basketball. Head coach Brenda Frese purposely stacked her team’s schedule to simulate the intensity of games in March, but injuries and illness led to back-to-back shorthanded blowouts at the hands of No. 2 NC State and No. 4 Stanford.
“I think you are seeing that teams are playing in a much more competitive schedule and kind of wanting to learn about themselves in November to prepare themselves for what lies ahead,” Frese said after the Stanford loss. “I think it’s exciting for women’s basketball.”
But there is something to be said for taking early losses so the team can recharge. The Baha Mar Hoops Championship gave the Terps the chance to face the best teams in the country. Thursday’s match gives the No. 8 team in the country a chance to shake off a challenging two-game losing skid.
And with The Washington Post journalist Kareem Copeland reporting that both top three-point shooter Katie Benzan and lockdown defender Faith Masonius, who both were out due to illness, are practicing with the team there are reinforcements on the way.
The contest is set for an 8 p.m. tipoff at Xfinity Center Thursday and will be streamed on the Big Ten Network.
Miami Hurricanes (4-2, 0-0 ACC)
2020-21 record: 11-11 (8-10 ACC)
Head coach Katie Meier is in her 17th season in charge of the Hurricanes. Throughout her tenure at the helm, Meier has amassed 292 wins, produced 25 professional players, five WNBA players and has had nine 20-win seasons.
Under her leadership, Miami has made 11 postseason appearances. With a .617 win percentage, Meier is the most successful basketball coach in Miami women’s basketball history. Meier also was named the 2011 AP National Coach of the Year.
After starting the 2021-22 season 4-0, the Canes have dropped their last two. However, the most recent loss was a two-point defeat to No. 6 Indiana in the Bahamas.
Players to know
Kelsey Marshall, graduate guard, 5-foot-9, No. 20 — As the heartbeat of Miami’s offense, Marshall led the team in scoring last season with 13.2 points per game. This season, the Davie, Florida native is back at it, pacing the team with 13 points, four rebounds and three assists. A season ago, Marshall ranked eighth in the ACC in 3-point field goals made, draining 2.33 per outing. Her 241 made threes and 706 attempts are second in program history.
Lola Pendande, junior forward, 6-foot-4, No. 21 — After transferring from Utah, Pendande has established herself as the Hurricane’s top paint presence. She leads the team with 5.7 rebounds per game and is second in scoring, putting up 8.2 points per night. Pendande’s seven blocks are also good for second on the squad.
Destiny Harden, redshirt senior forward, 6-foot, No. 3 — Last season, Harden trailed only Marshall in scoring and led the team in rebounding. However, the West Virginia transfer has not played this year. Should she return to the court, Harden will give Miami another interior player to complement Pendande.
Continuity. Miami returns three of its top scorers from a season ago and the addition of Pendande helps offset the loss of Endia Banks, who averaged 9.8 points last year. With Meier at the wheel and a bulk of the team’s offense returning, the Hurricanes have a set identity and style of play.
Shooting. Even with Marshall hitting about 35% of her threes last season, Miami still finished as the worst three-point shooting team in the ACC. The Canes made under 30% of their total 498 threes attempted. And things don’t get much better at the other two levels; as a unit, Miami was 12th out of 15 teams in both field goal and free-throw percentage.
Three things to watch
1. How will Maryland respond? Even though Miami got within two points of Indiana, a team with a similar makeup to Maryland in that it returns all five starters, the Terps will be eager to prove that the losses in Nassau were the result of limited numbers and tired legs. With a top coach in Frese, Maryland, which has had four full days to prepare for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, should take the court ready to exorcise the demons that haunted the team in the Bahamas.
“You can absolutely pick up on habits that need to be changed,” Frese said. “Emotional composure, that we’ve got to be able to find. There’s going to be a lot of positive things out of the adversity.”
2. What did the team learn? Frustrations started to show in the outing against Stanford. Angel Reese fouled out, Ashley Owusu picked up a technical foul, and the team overall looked disjointed. But as is the case with anything, there can be lessons learned, and you better bet that Frese will have picked apart both matches for her team to learn from.
“I think there’s a lot of things so we don’t just throw away the tape where you can learn the championship habits of Stanford,” Frese said.
3. How will the Terps use their final game before Big Ten play? The Big Ten/ACC Challenge gives the Terps one last tuneup before conference play begins on December 5 versus Rutgers. Once that happens, Maryland will face some of the top teams in the country — No. 6 Indiana, No. 9 Iowa, No. 12 Michigan and No. 18 Ohio State. And with the Hurricanes proving a capable foe against the Hoosiers, Thursday’s contest should be a meaningful precursor for a daunting Big Ten schedule that runs through late February.