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Maryland women's basketball can turn toward the future after an interesting season

Part 2 of our series. Maryland's season was really good, but the Terps fell short in the NCAA Tournament. The Terps' head coach explains how everything shook out for the program in 2015-16 and previews what's to come.

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Sammi Silber/Testudo Times

The 2015-16 women’s college basketball season is firmly in the rearview mirror for the Maryland Terrapins. It’s been well over a month since they left the floor for the last time. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still have one final chat about the year that was.

We posted Part 1 of the season recap a few weeks ago. Other than Brene Moseley getting drafted and A’Lexus Harrison deciding to transfer, there hasn’t been a ton of Maryland women’s basketball news since then. I’ve been piecing together this thing for a while, but because of other journalism and life responsibilities I had to put it on the back burner.

Alas, here it is. Part 2, where we’ll take a look at each player’s season and at what’s on the horizon for the coming winter. Thanks to head coach Brenda Frese for meeting with Testudo Times and making this easier to write. Let’s get started.

Who did what

Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Brionna Jones

It was pretty obvious from the onset that these two juniors would have to make huge strides if the team was going to be anywhere near its form from 2014 and 2015. Both did.

Walker-Kimbrough poured in 19.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.9 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. She shot 54.5 percent from three-point range, easily the best mark in the nation and good for a new program record. I can’t recall her ever taking a "bad shot." Her feet were always set. And it’s not like that was her game; she strongly preferred to drive to the hoop. Only a handful of players in the country were as productive in every aspect of the game this season.

Jones’ skill set isn’t quite as diverse, but it never really needed to be. She was able to bully pretty much any low-post defender she encountered, Breanna Stewart included (and the immortal Chantel Osahor not included). She finished with 15.2 points and 9.9 rebounds per game, a .665 shooting percentage and a First Team All-Big Ten selection.

These two players had historic seasons. Walker-Kimbrough’s 681 points was just shy of Vicky Bullett’s program-record 686 in 1988-89. Jones’ 342 boards were fourth in school history, behind two Alyssa Thomas seasons and one Kris Kirchner season.

What if they do it again? Well, if Walker-Kimbrough scores another 681 points next year, she’ll be at 2,180 for her career. That total would be good for fourth on the all-time Maryland leaderboard. If she plays a couple more fourth quarters or is more consistently aggressive during blowout games (she had a tendency this year to rack up 20 points by halftime and finish with 23 or so), then Marissa Coleman (2,205) and Crystal Langhorne (2,247) are within reach. Catching Alyssa Thomas (2,356) would be a stretch, though.

Jones has an even better chance in the rebounding department. Another healthy season of 10 rebounds per game would launch her from ninth on the all-time list to first. Thomas (not me, the other one) holds that record, too.

Pretty much everything the Terps did this year revolved around these two, and there’s no reason to expect next season will be drastically different.

Brene Moseley and Chloe Pavlech

Moseley was the team’s third-leading scorer and won Big Ten Sixth Player of the Year honors. She was also one of the five finalists for the Nancy Lieberman award (won by Moriah Jefferson for the second straight year). She finished her redshirt senior season with 11.6 points and 6.0 assists per game. She’s currently prepping for the WNBA season with the Indiana Fever and scored 16 points in their first scrimmage (although most of the regulars sat out and nearly 200 total points were scored).

"[Brene stood out for] her selflessness," Frese said. "She had a pass-first mentality. Anything she could do wearing the Maryland uniform."

Pavlech didn’t put up great numbers—just 2.3 points and 3.2 assists a night—but brought a lot of intangibles to the team. She was a plus passer and defender, and definitely had a good rapport with the other starters. This season capped off what was certainly a topsy-turvy career. Pavlech started 31 games as a freshman and 35 as a senior, but backed up Lexie Brown in between.

"She didn’t have your typical symmetry of a career," Frese said. "There were a lot of highs and lows, so it was great to see her toughness and perseverance through it all."

Moseley and Pavlech spelled one another at the point all year long, with Pavlech starting and Moseley coming off the bench. Despite the disparity in production, Frese never swapped the roles. Towards the end of the season, the two sometimes played together, which gave the lineup more quickness (albeit at the expense of size).

Neither is returning to College Park next season, which leaves incoming freshman Destiny Slocum as the only conventional point guard on the roster. More on that soon.

Malina Howard and Tierney Pfirman

The frontcourt seniors were pretty good, too. Pfirman was the team’s fourth-leading scorer at 9.1 points per game, and its third-leading rebounder with 4.9 per game. She only started 2 of 29 games, instead teaming with Moseley to provide a spark off the bench. Howard, who averaged 5.3 points and 4.4 boards, started the team’s final 28 games.

Howard entered College Park as the No. 6 overall recruit and top post player in the Class of 2012. She didn’t quite live up to that ranking, but her Maryland tenure was by no means a failure. She was a regular starter for two seasons and a major contributor on a pair of Final Four teams, all while graduating in three years and then working on pre-med course work. She won last year’s Elite 89 Award as the Final Four player with the highest cumulative GPA, and Tuesday became the second Maryland student-athlete ever awarded the Sally Sterling Byrd Award (Len Elmore in 1974 was the first).

"She embodied everything that it meant to be a Maryland student-athlete through and through," Frese said.

Howard developed a reliable midrange jumper by the end of her career, but Tierney Pfirman made her proverbial living just inside the arc. Every time she hoisted one up from some 16 or 17 feet, I muttered "money" under my breath, and by my unofficial calculations she made 93 percent of those shots. She erupted on Senior Day for 29 points and 13 rebounds on 12-of-19 shooting against Minnesota.

"She was really our X-factor, when you talk about coming off the bench and what she was able to provide," Frese said.

Kristen Confroy and Kiara Leslie

These two seemed to go in opposite directions over the course of the year. Leslie started the year in the starting lineup, but Brenda Frese flipped them in December, and Confroy seemed to take off shortly thereafter. Her 24-point game against Northwestern in which she drained 8 threes was one of the team’s most memorable performances of the season. Everyone knew she could shoot (her .408 three-point percentage was the third-highest in the conference behind Walker-Kimbrough and Nebraska’s Natalie Romeo), but the sophomore also established herself as a solid perimeter defender and capable rebounder. As the season went on, it became tougher and tougher for Frese to take her off the court. Her 31.9 minutes per game in Big Ten play topped even Walker-Kimbrough and Jones.

In a related story, Leslie’s minutes plummeted to just 10.1 per conference game, during which she averaged just 3.6 points and 2.4 rebounds. She led the team with 22 points in the 76-point thumping of Maryland-Eastern Shore and pulled down 13 boards against Illinois in the Terps’ Big Ten opener, but wasn’t much of a factor once the calendar flipped over. She’s a talented player but didn’t have a single skill that made her indispensable. There’s still time for that, though.

Brianna Fraser and Kiah Gillespie

Referring to them as "five-star freshman forwards" never got old. But if their official title was "Frese’s fantastic five-star freshman frontcourt forces," then we could have had a problem.

Anyway, the freshmen throughout the season showed glimpses of what they could become. But the high-leverage minutes never came their way, so we can’t be certain how they’ll fare in such situations going forward.

Gillespie jumped out instantly in the Goldey-Beacom scrimmage, leading the Terps with 22 points, 10 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks (here’s my gamer from Halloween afternoon, in case you’re feeling nostalgic). Sure, numbers against a D-2 squad in a 94-point blowout don’t mean much of anything, but she was by far the most dominant player on the floor that day. If you don’t believe me, I dug up some old press row tweets.

Of course, once Maryland started playing decent Division I teams, Gillespie was no longer able to rely solely on her physical gifts and raw abilities. The reality that she didn’t have Tierney Pfirman’s jumper or Malina Howard’s post moves set in, and because of this she lost a lot of minutes at the hands of those two over the season.

There was one notable change that coincided with this. Make what you will of it.

For the year, Gillespie shot just 39.7 percent from the floor and 27.3 percent from three. She averaged a mere 3.2 points in 8 minutes of action during conference play (and that doesn’t include the DNP-CD against Ohio State). She had her moments, but was on the outside looking in when the rotation tightened up. This is normal for a freshman, but there was a time where it seemed she wasn’t.

Fraser was a little more predictable, her skill set more clear-cut. She’s a power forward on the college level, one that can both score and defend in the post. It was largely expected that she would spend most of the season playing behind and learning from Jones and Howard. When she did play, she tallied 4 points and 2.7 rebounds a night. Fraser will probably play a ton of crunch-time minutes next year, and it helps that she’s already a solid foul shooter (74.6 percent).

Aja Ellison and A’Lexus Harrison

These two exemplify the harsh reality of big-time college basketball. Virtually no team of 12 players ever gives all 12 significant minutes. Ellison and Harrison both saw their development stunted by injuries, and they couldn’t snag playing time in the frontcourt and on the wing, respectively. They played a combined 47 minutes against Big Ten opponents, and approximately zero in which the game’s outcome was in doubt.

With the six-player freshman class coming, Harrison got out of Dodge and hit the graduate transfer market. Ellison seems to be sticking around, but while she could win some minutes with a good summer, the expectation is that she’ll spend most of her time in warmups.

What’s next?

Only the best recruiting class in the country and in Brenda Frese’s time at Maryland. Six new players are coming in, five of whom are five-star prospects. Point guard Destiny Slocum is the headliner, but there’s also center Jenna Staiti; wings Kaila Charles and Blair Watson; forward Stephanie Jones (Brionna’s sister); and three-star guard Sarah Myers. Here’s a more in-depth look at the incoming freshmen.

The Terps will also have the services of guard Iesha Small, who redshirted this year after transferring from Baylor. Small, a 6’0 guard, was a high school All-American and the No. 19 recruit the Class of 2013. That’s higher than Northwestern’s Nia Coffey (24), Washington's Kelsey Plum (26), and South Carolina's Alaina Coates (28), among others. The only more highly touted wing players were Tennessee’s Diamond DeShields (although she first played for North Carolina) and Florida’s Ronni Williams.

To make a long story short, she’s got the kind of talent that doesn’t just vanish in two years. She couldn’t separate herself in a crowded Baylor backcourt. She was one of three players to leave the program after the 2014-15 season (guard Imani Wright, the team’s second-leading scorer that year, transferred to Florida State).

Gone will be the four seniors and Harrison. So it’ll be a 14-player roster. However, it’s worth mentioning that only three of the seven players from the tightened rotation (Walker-Kimbrough, Jones and Confroy) will be back. The 2016-17 Terps may be much deeper than their predecessor, but there will be very few known quantities.

Here’s my wild guess at how it shakes out:

Starting lineup: Slocum, Confroy, Walker-Kimbrough, Gillespie, B. Jones

Bench: Fraser, Leslie, Staiti, Charles, Watson, Small, S. Jones, Myers, Ellison

At first glance, the 4-spot is probably the most up for grabs. Gillespie and Fraser are the early favorites, but the option to roll out a "twin towers" frontcourt with Jones and Staiti exists, as does the chance to pair the sisters together (although Stephanie is still rehabbing an injury).

There’s also the notable absence of a backup point guard. Maryland will have substantial wing depth, but only Slocum fits the mold of a traditional floor general. When she sits, perhaps the most likely outcome is Confroy sliding to the point, or perhaps Walker-Kimbrough could morph into a point-forward of sorts.

Of course, a college team spends more time together off the court than on. This will be a slightly younger group, and the senior presence will certainly be a little different than it was in 2015-16. Walker-Kimbrough and Jones will have that extra responsibility, although it really shouldn’t hinder them. A new vocal leader (or leaders) will have to emerge with Howard gone, and Frese said it’s possible that voice comes from the freshman group.

Several months will pass before any of these developments are on display. The players are currently working out to prepare for the coming season, and practices with the new squad start in the summer. A foreign trip in August will give the Terps some extra practice and bonding time before classes commence again.

The 2016-17 schedule has yet to be released, and the games themselves won’t start until the Christmas trees show up. UConn is on the schedule once again, as the four-time defending champs will visit College Park in the first half of the season. Of course, the Huskies won’t have Stewart or Jefferson or Tuck, but there’s still a reason to be excited about it.

"Obviously we love that matchup," Frese said. "Their team’s gonna be completely different, our team’s gonna be completely different, but right now they’re kind of the measuring stick. I know our kids will be fired up, and they love playing in games like that."

Ohio State will be a threat once again, as well. Kelsey Mitchell, Alexa Hart and Shayla Cooper will be back, and 6’4 forward Tori McCoy (the country’s No. 10 prospect) will give them more size. The Big Ten as a whole should be a little tougher, as most of the sophomore and junior superstars will be back.

But that’s next year. I’m finally out of things to say about the 2015-16 Maryland women’s basketball team. It was a privilege to cover them for this site, and I can’t wait to do it again.

See you on the other side.