Kiah Gillespie looked like a future superstar after her first three games at the college level. The McDonald’s All-American averaged 17.3 points and 5.3 rebounds a game, and it looked like head coach Brenda Frese would have another dominant post player, one of many she’s had in her 15-year tenure in College Park.
But the season didn’t end that way. Gillespie averaged just 3.9 points and 2.6 rebounds per game the rest of the season, and saw her playing time drop dramatically as the year went on.
That trend continued this season, as she had to battle for time not just with returning players but with the No. 1 recruiting class in the country. Gillespie, like every player, saw a good amount of time during blowouts , but her minutes dwindled when the Terps had to grind out wins. She played two minutes or less in Maryland’s five closest wins and didn’t see the court at all in the Terps’ loss against UConn.
That changed Thursday against Michigan, who played Maryland close for almost the entire game. The sophomore scored nine points and had six rebounds in 18 minutes, which is more playing time than she saw in the previous three games combined.
“Just how she’s been practicing, it’s was great to see that all come together,” Frese said of Gillespie. “It makes us a really strong good team when we have that energy coming off the bench like we did tonight.”
Frese has usually looked for Ieshia Small and Brianna Fraser off the bench this season, but with Fraser going 0-for-4, Maryland needed a different spark. That came with time winding down in the third quarter, when Gillespie hit an off-balance three-pointer to give the Terps a 64-61 lead.
“It felt good, especially going into the fourth quarter. It gave us the little buzz we needed,” Gillespie said.
Following the buzzer-beating three, she came out in the fourth with a block on the defensive end, and then had a layup and an assist on back-to-back possessions as part of an 8-0 run that gave Maryland a 68-61 lead. From there, Maryland was able to walk away with a victory.
Frese has talked about her team’s depth in almost every post-game press conference this season, and tonight Gillespie helped put away a tough Michigan team.
“It was special to watch,” Frese said. “That’s what we’ve been seeing in practice. I just love how hard she’s been working just putting her head down and staying the course.”
Maryland has played a pretty small bench so far in Big Ten play, so having another option off the bench will help, especially later in the season when the team’s stars get tired or someone gets in foul trouble.
“Obviously every player on our roster is extremely talented, and Kiah was ready when her number was called tonight,” Frese said.