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Takeaways from Maryland women’s basketball’s performance in the Cancun Challenge

Here’s what stood out from the Terps’ three games in Mexico.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

Maryland women’s basketball entered the Cancun Challenge at 2-2. It left at 4-3.

The Terps were humiliated in their first game by Washington State, 87-67, but rebounded with consecutive wins against Green Bay and UMass. Each of Maryland, Washington State and Green Bay finished the tournament with two wins, while UMass left with zero.

Here are some takeaways from the Terps’ showing in the in-season tournament.

Bench play is slowly progressing

Before the Cancun Challenge, Maryland relied heavily on sophomore Bri McDaniel as its sole reliable bench option. Her standout performance against Syracuse — in which she recorded 12 points, four rebounds and five assists in just 21 minutes — spurred the Terps to victory.

Head coach Brenda Frese emphasized needing to see the team’s chemistry evolve, and progress was reflected over the past three games.

Freshmen Riley Nelson and Emily Fisher, along with recently benched Faith Masonius, showed that they could significantly bolster the team’s balance.

Although the Terps’ struggled in the Washington State game, everyone was more involved in the next two games. With a total of 39 points, the bench played a significant role in the decisive UMass victory.

The freshmen saw increased playing time, jumping from an average of 15 to 43 minutes per game, displaying Frese’s confidence to extend her bench.

“I wanted to get [the freshmen] some minutes; it’s still a work in progress,” Frese noted after the UMass win. “But they’re working hard, and I appreciate that.”

Maryland’s success may come down to its shooting

Maryland’s formula was simple in Cancun: sink shots to secure victories.

At this juncture, it’s evident that while the Terps possess defensive versatility, their lack of height poses challenges in the offensive paint.

Throughout the Terps’ three games, they scored 33 percent, 35 percent, and 50 percent of their points in the paint, respectively. They’ve exhibited a preference for pick-and-pop and drive-and-kick basketball, rather than relying on a fundamental, post-dominated game.

In the matchup against Washington State, Maryland dominated the first quarter, shooting 13-for-20 from the field and 4-for-6 from beyond the arc. However, shooting struggles surfaced in the second quarter and persisted throughout the game, finishing 10-for-56 from the field and 1-for-10 from long range.

So, what’s the strategy for Maryland when shots aren’t falling? There isn’t a clear-cut answer, since the team heavily relies on its shooting prowess. Brinae Alexander, a career 42.4 percent three-point shooter, has gone 16-for-43 this season. It’s crucial for Shyanne Sellers and Lavender Briggs to step up, considering their combined 10-for-28 performance beyond the arc.

Allie Kubek looks comfortable in a starting role

Allie Kubek, now a starter after her standout game against Syracuse, showcased her ability last week to spread the floor, particularly on top-of-the-key screens for three-point attempts.

She registered 26 minutes in the Terps’ loss to Washington State, and went 4-for-6 from the field, scoring 11 points — her second consecutive game with double-digit points.

Kubek actually saw decreased minutes in Maryland’s two wins, but managed a game-high three offensive rebounds against Green Bay — which proved crucial.

In contrast, Faith Masonius received increased playing time off the bench, a move that worked well for Maryland, leading to a comeback win. Her and Kubek could become an important frontcourt duo in coming weeks.

Kubek’s all-around performance was also solid against UMass, as she went 3-of-3 from the field in 22 minutes and had a standout defensive performance.

After missing all of last season due to injury, Kubek has emerged as the team’s fourth-leading scorer this season. Her performances in the upcoming weeks as she settles this newfound starting role will be paramount, especially heading into conference play.