In the four days between the NCAA Tournament selection show and its first game Friday, Maryland women’s basketball players talked about controlling what they could. The No. 3-seed Terps couldn’t control being placed in the same region as four-time defending national champion Connecticut, a brutal draw for any team, let alone one that had Final Four aspirations at the beginning of the season.
But they could control how they played in their first-round matchup against Bucknell. They did a pretty good job of that, dominating the game on both ends of the floor in an 103-61 win.
“As a team, we wanted to come out and make them feel our presence,” senior guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough said.
Walker-Kimbrough and fellow senior Brionna Jones certainly did a good job with that, combining for 53 points on 23-of-35 shooting, which was more field goals than the Bison had as a team. Their lead set the tone for the rest of the team, and the Terps ended up shooting over 58 percent from the field.
Bucknell head coach Aaron Roussell said that the scout team wasn’t available because the university was on spring break, but even that wouldn’t have helped them prepare for two of the best players in the nation.
Walker-Kimbrough can be a potential matchup nightmare, but for the Bison, Jones presented a different challenge.
“For being a smaller mid-major, we’re about as big as you can get,” Roussell said. “We were talking about the double (team) yesterday in practice and you would’ve thought our kids we’re talking a foreign language. It’s not something we normally have to consider.”
Bucknell has some height in the frontcourt with Claire DeBoer at 6’1, Kaitlyn Slagus at 6’2, and Sune Swart at 6’3; the front line is bigger than some in the Big Ten. Jones started out just 4-for-9, but ended 7-for-8 and finished with 25 points.
The Terps were typically efficient on offense, and also did an exceptional job at taking care of the ball. The Bison aren’t a great team at forcing turnovers, but Maryland had just five, which is impressive considering the Terps’ fast pace on offense.
“They wanted to know if that was a record in terms of lowest amount of turnovers ever,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “It was incredible, we were clicking on all cylinders, being patient, making sound decisions.”
With fewer turnovers, Maryland was able to set a program record for points in an NCAA Tournament game. But the pressure the Terps brought on defense caused just as many problems as their sharp shooting.
“When they were able to score, they able to set up some of their pressure, I don’t think we handled that the best,” Roussell said. “They scored and were able to set the pressure, that’s what bothered us.”
Maryland forced 20 turnovers for just the fifth time this season. Many led to transition offense, which helped the Terps go on an 11-2 run and stretch the lead to end the first half.
This was just one part of Maryland’s outstanding defensive effort on Friday. The Terps were locked in defensively from the start, and held the Bison to just 37 percent shooting from the floor. Even that number is inflated, as Bucknell shot 53 percent in the final quarter with Maryland’s reserves in.
The Bison looked to try to slow the game down early, but still struggled to get the looks they wanted, going deep into the shot clock in the first quarter.
“I actually liked how we were playing offensively, but the ball didn’t go in the basket,” Roussell said. “I thought we’d be able to overcome some things offensively, and unfortunately, that thing just wouldn’t go in for us.”
DeBoer, Bucknell’s leading scorer and Patriot League Player of the Year, struggled, scoring five points on 1-of-8 shooting.
“I was feeling a lot of pressure, I was trying to take some outside shots, they weren’t really falling for me today,” DeBoer said. “At the end there I was trying to attack a little more, and I think I should’ve done that more throughout the game.”
The Bison are not at the level Maryland will be facing for the rest of the tournament, but this was an excellent start. The Terps know this, and they don’t need anymore motivation after what happened last year against Washington.
“Shatori and Bri talk about it quite a bit, just the bad taste left in our mouth from last year,” junior guard Kristen Confroy said. “It fueled our whole offseason and we relayed that message to the freshman. We have to send our seniors out the right way and take it one game at a time and lock in for every opponent.”