clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Recapping Maryland women’s basketball’s 2017-18 season

New, 16 comments

Some reflections on the end of another season for Brenda Frese’s team.

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

Heading into the 2017-18 season, there were a lot of unknowns about Maryland women’s basketball, but expectations remained. Despite losing two program greats and a future star, the Terps were still picked to finish second in the Big Ten and started the season at No. 15 in the AP Poll.

Maryland almost lived up to those expectations, even after sophomore Blair Watson tore her ACL in January. It fell to second in the Big Ten after a three-game losing streak near the end of the regular season, and didn’t fall outside the top 15 nationally until Feb. 26. The Terps did all this while lacking depth, riding a roster with usually just nine healthy/eligible players to a 26-8 record.

Let’s reflect on the end to the season, breaking down how each player performed throughout the year.

How it ended

Maryland could not beat NC State on its home floor, falling to the Wolfpack 74-60 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Terps got out to a slow start and trailed by 11 early in the second quarter, but cut the lead to one in the third quarter before NC State pulled away late.

“I thought NC State earned this win. They were the better team today,” head coach Brenda Frese said following the loss. “I don’t think we played one of our better games and they did a lot to earn this win.”

Maryland shot just 37.5 percent from the field in the loss, its worst shooting performance in over two months. The Terps allowed an average three-point shooting team to shoot 50 percent from the three-point line, while Maryland went 0-for-5. Senior sharpshooter Kristen Confroy couldn’t even get off an attempt. The Terps also had no answer for former teammate Kiara Leslie, who had 21 points and 11 rebounds. The guard also locked down Kaila Charles, who scored four points on 2-of-8 shooting and fouled out.

It was the second time in three years Maryland was sent home early, although this time it wasn’t quite as surprising.

Who’s gone

The loss to NC State marked the end of the line for Confroy and Ieshia Small.

Confroy’s senior season was her most productive, as her 9.7 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game were all career highs. She also led the team in minutes per game and shot 45 percent on three-pointers; her 217 career threes are second in program history. She was never the best player on the floor, but was the team’s heartbeat. The offense flowed better when she was on the court, and the team will miss her leadership next year.

“Like I told her when she came off the court, she’s a winner. ... She’s going to be a phenomenal doctor, she has her path paved for her,” Frese said after the loss to NC State. “We’re the lucky ones at Maryland that we got that opportunity to coach her for four years.”

Small was another important contributor, and was the Big Ten’s Sixth Player of the Year while averaging 9.4 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. She carried Maryland in spurts with her foul-line jumper, was a physical guard who could play multiple positions, and had a knack for quote-worthy material.

Who’s coming back

Juniors

Though they weren’t the most consistent, both Brianna Fraser and Eleanna Christinaki were solid contributors. Fraser averaged 10.2 points and 5.8 rebounds coming off the bench, and played her best basketball at the end of the season. She was a force in the Terps’ first two Big Ten tournament games, and scored a team-high 17 points against NC State. If Fraser can continue to use the aggressiveness and physicality attacking the basket she showed late in the season, she will excel in whatever role Maryland needs her next year.

After an electrifying Maryland debut, Christinaki had an up-and-down rest of the season. The ups were glorious, including 26 points against Ohio State, but the downs were ugly, including a 5-for-23 night against Purdue. Still, the Florida transfer brought energy on the glass and the defensive end when her shots weren’t falling. She ended up averaging 11.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game, but her 36.6 percent shooting will need to improve next year. A year with a more defined role will help, as Christinaki had to integrate herself in the middle of the season, and saw her role change five games in when Watson went down.

Aja Ellison played minimal minutes, but it was nice to see her back on the court since she’s struggled with knee injuries throughout her college career.

Sophomores

Before the season, Frese said a lot of players make a big jump from their freshman to sophomore season. Three of Maryland’s sophomores did just that.

Kaila Charles had one of the best seasons by a sophomore in program history. She averaged 17.9 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, and was a First Team All-Big Ten selection. Her scoring average was the highest ever by a Maryland sophomore: only Crystal Langhorne scored more points, while only Langhorne, Brionna Jones and Alyssa Thomas had more rebounds. If that wasn’t enough, she was also the team’s best defender.

Stephanie Jones made the leap as well, going from a limited role off the bench to averaging 10.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game while playing out of position at the 5. With reinforcements coming down low, Jones will probably play more at the 4 next year, which is a more natural position for her.

Before tearing her ACL, Blair Watson was enjoying a breakout season. She was averaging 13.8 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, shooting 44 percent on three-pointers, and was on pace to smash the program record for threes in a season.

Without Watson, Maryland was a different team. The Terps were not as effective offensively, and averaged 72.3 points per game after Watson’s injury, down from the 80 they averaged when she was healthy for the first four games of Big Ten play. They also weren’t able to spread the defense as much, shooting 12 threes a game after shooting 20.5 a game when she was healthy. If teams could take Confroy out of a game or Christinaki and Channise Lewis weren’t hitting open threes, teams could pack it in and dare Maryland to take long jumpers.

Sarah Myers didn’t play as much as the three sophomores mentioned above, but still had an important role as the backup point guard. She played more minutes early in the season as Lewis adjusted to the college game, and gave Maryland some big minutes later in the season when Lewis got in foul trouble.

Freshmen

Maryland did not land a commit in the early signing period, but plans changed after Destiny Slocum transferred out of the program in April. Frese acted quickly, signing four-star point guard Channise Lewis after Illinois released her from her letter of intent. Lewis was mainly a facilitator, averaging 5.4 points and 4.7 assists per game, and showed flashes of a three-point shot. Although she may have a similar role as a distributor next year, becoming more assertive on the offensive end would help.

Wrapping it up

I’ve covered this team the past two years, and while both had Maryland across the chest, they felt like vastly different groups. Last year’s team had more overall talent and placed high expectations on itself that it didn’t meet. This year’s team was still expected to do well, but never explicitly talked about making a deep tournament run.

This year’s group also had a chip on its shoulder. Instead of cruising to wins with one big run and relying on a few stars, this year’s team had to win with a greater collective effort. You could usually count on Charles to have a solid night, but for better or for worse, most of the time it was someone else different stepping up to be the complementary scorer every night. Even if the team had a short stay in the NCAA Tournament, it says a lot about a program when going 26-8 and finishing second in the Big Ten is considered a down year.

This season didn’t bring Final Fours or championships like the ones before it, but served as the bridge from one core to another, and this one could also make a deep NCAA Tournament run before their time in College Park is up.

Note: This was originally supposed to include some analysis on the future, but as you can see, this is already long enough. Look out for that next week.