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Despite early-season doubts, Maryland women’s basketball is a national contender again

After an up-and-down start to the season, Maryland is playing its best basketball when it matters most.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 04 Iowa vs Maryland Photo by Bailey Hillesheim/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Senior guards Diamond Miller and Abby Meyers looked at each other in agreement when asked when they felt the team hit a new gear and the season started to turn around.

“The UConn game, for sure,” they jointly said.

On Dec. 11, for the first time in program history, Maryland women’s basketball took down UConn. Despite the Huskies being shorthanded, the win signaled a change in the team’s mentality going forward.

“Was it a perfect game? No game is, but we’re definitely growing in that direction,” Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said after the 85-78 win.

Frese has admitted that this year’s offseason was one of the most difficult her and her staff had ever faced during her 21-year tenure with Maryland. Miller was the only returning starter on the team. Key transfer departures in Angel Reese, Mimi Collins and Ashley Owusu left one of the winningest programs in college basketball in an incredibly tough spot.

The team was doubted to continue its success and expected to fall. It was picked by the Big Ten coaches to finish fourth in the conference, and with nine newcomers on a completely revamped team, that decision was more than reasonable.

With Selection Sunday less than a week away, the Terps (25-6, 15-3 Big Ten) look destined to be a No. 2 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

“I think we all knew coming into the season it felt daunting knowing that it was an overhaul of so many faces. A new offensive system that we wanted to play to our strengths with so many great perimeter players and it was pretty bad back in the in the preseason and in those practices,” Frese said. “So credit to these players for buying in, trusting and working to put themselves in these position.

It was a daunting task for the Terps, who with a Thanksgiving week loss to unranked DePaul dropped their record to 4-2.

A thrilling win against then-No. 7 Notre Dame on Dec. 1, courtesy of heroics from senior guard Diamond Miller, had Frese’s squad looking more like the Maryland that holds the second-longest active streak for consecutive weeks ranked in the AP poll.

Ranked No. 20 after consequentially falling to Nebraska by 23 points at home on Dec. 4, the Terps took to the road to take on a formidable Purdue team on Dec. 8. With the clock winding down, sophomore guard Shyanne Sellers, whose second-year jump has been a key reason for the Terps’ success, drilled a game-winning three to propel the Terps past the Boilermakers, 77-74.

Without that make, Maryland had a very good chance of falling into unchartered, unranked territory. It finished the regular season winning 16 of its 18 remaining games.

A key part of Maryland’s identity has been its ability to respond; it’s 5-0 after losses this season.

“We’ve always had just terrific responses that that I think continues to show you what makes this team pretty elite,” Frese added.

Losses have been something that Maryland’s taken to heart, with a notable example being its 96-82 loss to Iowa on the road on Feb. 2. Sellers, Meyers and Miller all took the time to mention after that game how the group stayed up until 4 a.m. in the hotel watching film of the game.

Maryland responded two weeks later with an emphatic 96-68 victory against the Hawkeyes in College Park.

“I just love battling with these girls and that’s something that we do every day and it’s something we’re gonna get to do in the NCAA Tournament,” Miller said.

Even though the Terps fell just short in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals, losing to the Hawkeyes in the their rubber match, they are full of confidence heading into the NCAA Tournament. They’ll look to advance past the Sweet 16 for the first time since the 2014-2015 season.

“We’re gonna get back. We’re gonna get better and we got two weeks now. So we got a lot of regrouping to do, but we love being in these situations,” Miller, who was named to the All-Big Ten Tournament Team, said after the loss.

One of the most difficult offseasons of Frese’s career has slowly turned into one of her more memorable and impressive years of coaching.

“A year ago we were coaching effort. This year, we don’t have to coach effort,” Frese said.