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NCAA Tournament round of 32 preview: No. 2-seed Maryland women’s basketball vs. No. 7-seed Arizona

The winner heads to Greenville, South Carolina, for the Sweet 16.

NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament - First Round - Maryland Photo by Greg Fiume/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

No. 2-seed Maryland women’s basketball cruised to its 18th consecutive opening-round victory under head coach Brenda Frese Friday, taking down No. 15-seed Holy Cross, 91-63.

The Terps never let Holy Cross crawl within 20 points after the opening quarter, holding the Crusaders to a 35% clip from the field Friday afternoon.

Next up is a round of 32 matchup against No. 7-seed Arizona, Frese’s alma mater. The Wildcats took down No. 10-seed West Virginia, 75-62, prior to Maryland’s game Friday.

“How ironic, first of all, to get them all the way here in College Park, but [Arizona head coach] Adia Barnes and her staff, they’ll have them ready. They’re a great, great team,” Frese said of the Wildcats.

Tipoff is set for 5:30 p.m. Sunday, live on ESPN from the XFINITY Center.

Arizona Wildcats (22-9, 11-7 Pac 12)

Head coach Adia Barnes took over as head coach ahead of the 2016-17 season, and she has done a remarkable job making her alma mater one of the premier teams in the nation. The Wildcats have rattled off five straight 20-win seasons, which includes making the national championship game in 2021, where it lost by one point to Stanford.

Barnes has once again led the ‘Cats to another successful regular season, defeating five ranked opponents and finishing fifth in an ultra-competitive Pac-12 conference.

Arizona will look to avenge last year’s defeat in the round of 32, when it got blown out on its home court by fifth-seeded North Carolina.

Players to know

Cate Reese, fifth-year forward, 6-foot-2, No. 25 — Reese has been one of Arizona’s best players — perhaps its best — since joining the squad as a five-star recruit in the 2018-19 season. She was instrumental during the Wildcats’ run to the 2021 title game, earning All-Pac-12 honors in that season. Reese was named an All-American honorable mention last season, and has followed that up with another solid campaign, averaging close to 13 points and six boards per game. The four-time All-Pac-12 selection looks to lead her team to another deep tournament run.

Shaina Pellington, fifth-year guard, 5-foot-8, No. 1 — Like Reese, Pellington was a member of the 2021 squad that lost to Stanford. The Ontario, Canada native is the most experienced player on the team, playing two successful seasons at Oklahoma before transferring to the Wildcats. She also represented Canada at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Pellington leads Arizona in scoring this season with 13.3 points per game, including a 35-point performance in an 82-72 upset win against then-No. 4 Utah.

Esmery Martinez, senior forward, 6-foot-2, No. 12 — The West Virginia transfer’s transition into the Pac-12 was seamless, cementing herself a starting role at the five spot for the Wildcats. The frontcourt of her and Reese has given smaller teams trouble this season, and she’s been a revelation on the defensive end. She’s started each game this season, averaging just under two rebounds shy of a double-double. She leads the team in rebounds and steals.


Championship pedigree. The Wildcats’ starting lineup is maybe the most experienced in the nation, with three seniors and two fifth-year players. Four players from their 2021 national runner-up squad are on the current roster. Arizona has had five-straight 20-win seasons, establishing itself as a formidable contender under Barnes.


Free throws. Despite having an above-average offense that ranks third in the conference at over 74 points per game, the Wildcats have struggled immensely from the free-throw line this season. They’re shooting free throws at a 68.6% clip, by far the worst in the Pac-12. Pennington, who has the most attempts from the charity stripe on the team, has made just over 60% of her attempts.

Three things to watch

1. Can the Terps advance to their third straight Sweet 16? Maryland has beaten its last two round of 32 opponents by a combined 60 points, easily advancing to the Sweet 16. Seventh-seeded Arizona provides a unique challenge as a team that has advanced deep into the tournament in recent years, but the Terps have the advantage of playing at the XFINITY Center, where they look to win their 11th straight game there.

2. Maryland has struggled in the round of 32 against Pac-12 teams. The Terps have advanced to the Sweet 16 in eight of the past 10 seasons. Those two absences came courtesy of second-round losses to Pac-12 teams. They fell to UCLA in 2019, 89-85, and to a Kelsey Plum-led Washington team in 2016, 74-65.

3. Miller’s head-to-head matchup with Reese. Diamond Miller and Cate Reese are two of the best paint players in the tournament, and each have been doing it at the same school for their entire career. Reese tore it up against West Virginia in round one, scoring 25 points on 10-for-19 shooting. She’ll likely have the assignment of Miller defensively, with the latter looking to get her into foul trouble early.