Maryland women’s basketball hasn’t been given many favors this NCAA Tournament. The Terps received a No. 3 seed on Selection Monday despite a 30-2 record and a Big Ten title. They were placed in the same region as UConn, the four-time defending champions, making it hard for them to prove anyone wrong.
This weekend’s regional is in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where tickets sold out before the selection show even took place. As a result, Maryland fans were essentially shut out of supporting their team. So if the Terps are to reach their third Final Four in four years, they’ll have to snap the longest winning streak in the history of the sport in front of a crowd cheering almost entirely for that team.
The only thing Brenda Frese’s team can do about all of this is use it as motivation, and that’s what the Terps have done.
“It’s disappointing that some of our fans that are loyal fans and always come to every game won’t get a chance to come and watch us play,” senior center Brionna Jones said Wednesday. “That just gives us motivation to take care of business so that they get a chance to come if we make it to the Final Four.”
Maryland has done everything in its control to this point, winning its first two tournament games by 42 and 27 points. The Terps have been stellar on both ends of the floor, and every player—all six freshmen included—has contributed.
The team will play No. 10-seed Oregon at 11:30 a.m. ET Saturday, with the UConn-UCLA game to follow. Oregon upset No. 2-seed Duke on Monday night, which took away the chance of a matchup starring Maryland-to-Duke transfer point guard Lexie Brown. Although the Ducks are a rather low seed, they still present an intriguing challenge, in part because of the lack of familiarity between the teams.
“We’re definitely familiar with Duke’s system and style of play and personnel,” Frese said. “You’re starting from scratch [preparing for Oregon].”
The 22-13 Ducks are known for their shooting. They knock down 39 percent of their three-pointers, the fourth-highest mark in Division I. Maryland players and coaches stressed the importance of containing their deep threats and locking them down in transition.
“It’s a team that’s not gonna make mistakes on their own, they’re not gonna beat themselves,” Frese said, “so you’re gonna have to come in and be able to take that game.”
Oregon starts three freshmen, including 6’4 center Ruthy Hebard, who recorded 19 points and 15 rebounds against Duke. The Terps start two freshmen of their own in Destiny Slocum and Kaila Charles, which means half of the starters in Saturday’s contest will be rookies.
The Ducks already have a true road win under their belt this NCAA Tournament, which Maryland doesn’t have by virtue of playing at home. But the Terps beat Purdue in Indianapolis for the Big Ten title, so it’s not like they haven’t faced such an obstacle this postseason.
“I’m really not nervous, because [my teammates] are always there pushing me and telling me, ‘Everything’s fine, just keep playing your game,’” Charles said.
In fact, Maryland has played in front of several sizable road crowds this season, starting at Louisville on Dec. 1 and continuing through conference play, where seven of the Terps’ eight road games drew at least 4,000 fans. The newcomers have thrived in these environments before, and are confident they can do so again.
“When you look at all the mini-tests they’ve had up to this point going on the road, they’ve done remarkably well,” Frese said.
Bridgeport’s Webster Bank Arena is a slightly different environment, as it seats under 8,000 fans. Those arenas tend to get louder with the fans so close to the court, and Maryland will simply have to keep the fans quiet.
“I think we’ve played in some smaller venues, and we’ve played in some venues that have been larger and their crowd has been amazing,” Jones said. “So I think we’re prepared for a loud crowd if that’s what’s gonna happen.”
Maryland doesn’t expect a hostile environment against Oregon, but a potential UConn matchup will be a different story. Beating the Huskies is one of the toughest tasks in all of college sports, but the Terps are embracing that challenge.
“If we advance, that’s an element that you have to be prepared for,” Frese said. “But I think any competitor, if you get that element, you want it. Going on the road and playing in front of big crowds that are against you is a lot of fun.”