Maryland women’s basketball’s brass has preached the sentiment of wanting to be peaking by early March. The players and coaching staff have different interpretations of what that looks like, but the second-seeded Terps showed exactly what that is supposed to be in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against No. 15-seed Holy Cross on Friday in College Park.
Maryland got out to a strong first half, dictated the pace the entire length of the game and made converting defense into offense a critical point of the game. All of that resulted in a Maryland clinic, as the Terps defeated the Crusaders, 93-61.
“We came out defensively forcing a lot of turnovers with our defense holding Holy Cross to four points in the quarter,” head coach Brenda Frese said.
Graduate guard Abby Meyers, who is playing in her second career NCAA Tournament, said doing the little things is the most critical component of that goal. Early defense from graduate guard Elisa Pinzan and senior forward Faith Masonius put Holy Cross in an early seven-minute drought.
“That’s the goal of our press. Get their nerves up, speed them up and get a 10-second call,” Meyers said. “It’s kind of the bread and butter of our defense.”
Maryland’s priority over the last few games has been to dictate a fast tempo from the tip, and it accomplished that through a full-court press and forcing turnovers. Holy Cross didn’t cross the 10-point mark until over three minutes into the second quarter.
Four of the Terps’ five starters finished the game with double-digit points, with senior guard Brinae Alexander leading the way for Maryland with 18 points. No player for Holy Cross had more than 13 points.
Alexander continued to be a spark off the bench for Maryland of late. Her 3-point shooting prowess has been a catalyst for why the Terps have been so competitive in recent games. It began with a 24-point career-high performance over Iowa in College Park. Now she’s transformed into one of the best shooting reserves in the conference.
Holy Cross generated some offensive energy following its abysmal first quarter, scoring 17 in the second quarter, but leading scorer Branagh Power-Cassidy was held without a point in the half; Power-Cassidy finished with just three points Friday. By halftime, Maryland held an iron-clad lead that showed no signs of diminishing.
Maryland only outscored the Crusaders by one in the second half, but the result was solidified not long after the game began.
Three things to know
1. Maryland will play No. 7-seed Arizona on Sunday. Maryland faces a battle against the Wildcats, who are two years removed from losing in the national championship game. The Wildcats capitalized on opportunities early in their first-round game and built up a high field-goal percentage in the first half. Cate Reese dominated the scoring, putting up 25 points on an efficient 10-for-19 mark from the field. The 6-foot-2 graduate forward spaced the court, allowing her teammates to give an open shot to players like Shaina Pellington, who finished with 18 points.
“They’re really deep and talented and have great size, have weapons at every single position. I think they can get their offense going in a lot of different ways,” Frese said.
2. Maryland has made single-digit defensive quarters a specialty. Maryland has held an opponent to single-digit points in a quarter 10 times this season. The Terps held Holy Cross to four first-quarter points, the second-lowest scoring total in a quarter since it held Northwestern to two points on Feb. 9.
“Really important. We wanted to come out and see how long we could hold them on the defensive end,” Frese said.
3. Turning defense into offense. If there was anything impressive about Maryland’s performance Friday, it was how it forced turnovers through every part of the game and produced points almost every time. The starters set the tone, but Alexander and senior guard Lavender Briggs continued the efforts. By the end of the game, Maryland had tallied 39.8% of its points off Holy Cross’ turnovers.
“We’ve had really good practices since we’ve finished the [Big Ten] Tournament and really been intentional in getting our [defense]-to-[offense] going,” Frese said.
Alexander prided herself and the team for turning defense into offense throughout the game and said converting defense to offense has been a large point of emphasis for the Terps.