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Maryland women’s basketball vs. NC State preview

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The Terps take on an old ACC rival with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Ohio State vs Maryland Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

RALEIGH, N.C. — A year after a disappointing loss in the Sweet 16, Maryland women’s basketball has a chance to return to the regional semifinals Sunday against No. 4-seed NC State.

The Terps started off sluggish against No. 12 seed Princeton, leading by five at halftime before pulling away in the second half for a 77-57 win.

“The story of our team all season long is that it’s not one person, but everyone sharing the load,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “I thought you saw collectively just the strength of our team today. I thought Kristen [Confroy] and Eleanna [Christinaki] set the tone early, with the scout against Kaila [Charles], I thought she was patient, and Sarah [Myers] gave us tremendous energy off the bench when we got in foul trouble with Channise [Lewis].”

Charles still led the way with 20 points, but Christinaki was also solid with 16 points and eight rebounds on 7-of-14 shooting. It was the most points the junior had scored since she had 18 against Rutgers on Feb. 12, and she had shot just 29 percent from the field since that game.

“When she just allows herself to slow down and play this game, it makes us such a better team,” Frese said of Christinaki. “We need that consistency from her moving forward and we think she can give us that.”

Still, despite a solid win, there are some things that could improve. Maryland left some easy layups on the board, and also was sloppy at times, committing 16 turnovers. The Wolfpack are not a great turnover-forcing team, but the Terps can’t have that many empty possessions if they want to move on to Kansas City.

NC State defeated Elon 62-35 to advance to the second round, and like Princeton, the Wolfpack will look to slow it down and play tough defense. They give up just 56.7 points per game and are equally strong on the glass, with nearly a plus-10 rebounding margin.

The two teams have not met since Maryland joined the Big Ten, and NC State won the last meeting in 2014 in Reynolds Colisuem, 72-63.

Tipoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET, and the game will be televised on ESPN2 in local markets or in whiparound coverage for the rest of the country. You can also stream the game on WatchESPN.

NC State Wolfpack (25-8)

2016-17 record: 23-9, 12-4 ACC

Head coach Wes Moore has won 670 games in 29 seasons as a college basketball head coach, and is 112-50 in five seasons at NC State. Before coming to Raleigh, he spent 15 seasons at Chattanooga, where he won 358 games and led the Mocs to nine NCAA tournaments.

Players to know

Chelsea Nelson, senior, forward, 6’2, No. 5. Nelson averages a team-high 13.2 points and 9.7 rebounds per game, and is a first team All-ACC selection. She had just nine points against Elon, snapping an eight game streak of scoring in double figures.

Kiara Leslie, redshirt junior, guard, 6’0, No 11. Leslie is second on NC State with 12 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. She transferred to the Wolfpack from Maryland after graduating in three years, and redshirted last year while rehabbing an ankle injury.

Akela Maize, senior, center, 6’5, No. 32. A member of the All-ACC defensive team, Maize averages 10.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and two blocks a game. She could be a tough matchup for an undersized Maryland team.

Strength

Limiting second chance opportunities. NC State’s opponents get a rebound on just 23.5 percent of its missed shots, which is 3rd in Division I, according to HerHoopStats. Maryland rebounded 50 percent of its missed shots against Princeton, so controlling the glass will be key for both teams.

Weakness

Free-throw shooting. The Wolfpack shoot just 66.4 percent from the free-throw line, which is 279th in Division I. Their free-throw rate of 37.1 percent is 18th in the country, so they don’t take advantage of all their opportunities from the charity stripe.

Three things to watch

  1. Who controls the tempo? Just like Maryland’s first round opponent, NC State likes to slow it down and wear you out with tough defense. The Terps can play both styles, but like to get opportunities to run in transition.
  2. Can Maryland keep NC State off the foul line? Although the Wolfpack struggle with free throws, they still take more than 21 a game. The Terps have had issues with foul trouble at times, and those issues only become magnified with their short bench.
  3. Who wins the battle of the glass? Both teams pride themselves on strong rebounding, so expect a lot of scrapping in the post on both sides. Like we’ve seen on the men’s side plenty of times, the game can come down to one rebound.

Prediction

Maryland wins, 70-66