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Maryland women’s basketball’s 2017-18 season will have to be a team effort

After relying on two stars last year, the Terps will need to rely more on teamwork this season.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Purdue vs Maryland Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

When Maryland women’s basketball needed a basket last season, the ball would probably end up in one of its two seniors’ hands.

One option was Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who could knock a down a shot from distance, or penetrate to the rim for a layup. The other was Brionna Jones, who would catch the ball in the post and score on her first or second opportunity.

This year, the Terps don’t have that luxury. Both Jones and Walker-Kimbrough’s jerseys are now hanging in the rafters after excellent careers. Along with the departure of starting point guard Destiny Slocum and three other players to transfer, Maryland loses 64 percent of its scoring from last year, the most its lost in the Brenda Frese era.

“Everybody recognizes that we don’t have that star duo anymore,” senior guard Kristen Confroy said. “So it’s less of one person being a hero and more of us each taking a small step forward and as a team building ourselves.”

Confroy is one of two returning starters, along with Kaila Charles, who averaged more than 20 minutes a game last season. No other returning player averaged more than 15 minutes played. Confroy said that playing in the University Games in Taiwan were especially helpful because the experience helped some players adjust to the bigger roles they’re taking this season.

“We’ve really had the whole summer to find a new identity and figure what type of team we’re going to be this year,” Confroy said. “And Taiwan gave us the opportunity to really test it out.”

While it was easy to rely on Jones and Walker-Kimbrough last year, multiple players said the Terps will have to play more as a team this year. Sophomore guard Kaila Charles is the top returning scorer after averaging 9.7 points per game last year and seems ready for a featured role in the offense, but after that, who will step up as a scorer is unclear.

“I would say everybody on the team this year has to be a scorer,” sophomore guard Blair Watson said. “It can’t be just on one single person.”

The Terps also have to make up for their losses on the defensive side of the floor. Both Jones and Walker-Kimbrough were named to the All-Big Ten defensive team last year, and were adept at starting the Terps’ transition offense—whether it was Jones getting a rebound off a missed shot or Walker-Kimbrough picking off an errant pass.

“Defensively, the presence that Bri had in rebounding, everybody’s going to have to fill that, and everybody can do their part to fill those roles,” Watson said.

While this seems like an unusual position for Frese, it’s a process she’s gone through before. In 2014, Alyssa Thomas graduated from Maryland after a record-setting career, leading the Terps to an unexpected Final Four appearance as a senior. The Terps had Jones, Walker-Kimbrough and Lexie Brown waiting in the wings, but there was no way to know they would become stars.

Along with redshirt senior guard Laurin Mincy, all they did was lead Maryland to a team-record 28 game winning streak and another Final Four. Three years later, the Terps are in a similar position. There are several McDonald’s All-Americans on the roster, as well as players who were ranked in the top 100 of their respective recruiting classes.

“They want to create their own chapter and identity,” Frese said.

After a whole summer of hearing about all the changes and turmoil in the program, there’s only one thing left to do: start the season.

“I say that the players that have left are the players that have left,” Watson said. “I don’t think it takes anything away from our team. We’re still strong and very versatile on the court. I think we just have a very solid group here to work with.”