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Blair Watson is having a breakout season for Maryland women’s basketball

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After rarely playing as a freshman, the sophomore guard is becoming an elite three-point shooter.

Photo by Maryland Athletics

During her time at Nutley High School in New Jersey, Maryland women’s basketball sophomore guard Blair Watson’s nickname was “Blair from Anywhere.”

Watson graduated as the program’s all-time leading scorer and was named a McDonald’s All-American, and came to College Park as the No. 29 recruit in ESPNw’s Class of 2016 rankings.

But during her freshman year, Watson did not get much of a chance to live up to the nickname. She had shoulder surgery after her senior season, and was not cleared to play until shortly before the start of her freshman campaign. Add the fact that Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Kristen Confroy were entrenched in the starting lineup, and there wasn’t much room for Watson to make an impact.

She played just 10.9 minutes a game, mostly in garbage time, and averaged just 2.9 points per game. Watson also hit just 24.6 percent of her three-point attempts, which was surprising considering her effortless three-point stroke.

Fast forward nine months later, and Watson is in the midst of a breakout season. Her scoring average is up to 14.4 points per game, and that 11.5-point jump is the highest in the Big Ten. She’s started every game and contributed on both ends of the floor, but more importantly has rediscovered the shooting touch that made her such a highly recruited player.

Watson has hit 45.7 percent of her attempts from behind the arc, but has heated up over the last few weeks. In the first nine games of the season, Watson hit a respectable 39.4 percent of her three-point attempts. In the last five games, that number is at 55 percent, and her 27 threes in those five surpasses the 26 she hit in the first nine games of the season. In her last four contests, Watson has hit at least five three-pointers.

“I think one of the things about Blair is this is who she is,” head coach Brenda Frese said after the team’s 100-65 win over Illinois on Thursday. “Unfortunately, last year she came in after having shoulder surgery and was never able to get into that rhythm, but this is how well she could shoot coming out of high school and you’re seeing her ability tonight.”

Watson has already hit 53 three-pointers this season in just 14 games, which is already the seventh-best mark for a sophomore in program history. If she continues at her current pace, Watson could break Confroy’s sophomore record of 73 well before Punxsutawney Phil tells us whether to expect an early spring or a long winter. Kristi Toliver’s program record of 91 is also in range, and hitting that mark would be truly impressive considering Toliver’s place in Maryland basketball lore.

Records aside, Watson is filling a crucial role for the Terps this season. Playing time was going to be up for grabs this year after Walker-Kimbrough and Brionna Jones graduated, and even more opened up after Destiny Slocum and three other players transferred from the program.

Not only did that open up playing time, but it also meant Frese needed someone to fill Slocum’s role alongside Confroy as a perimeter threat. Watson has filled that role seamlessly, and has freed up more space inside for players like Kaila Charles, Stephanie Jones and Brianna Fraser to attack the basket.

This won’t always work as well as it did Wednesday night, when Watson and Confroy combined to hit 9 of 18 three-point attempts and Maryland scored 42 points in the paint, but the threat alone makes the Terps a much harder team to defend.

A year after that losing two All-Americans, it’s that versatility that keeps Maryland in a position to challenge for another Big Ten title.