It’s finally here.
After months of wading through a regular season that saw it win a Big Ten title, Maryland women’s basketball is less than 24 hours away from kicking off its NCAA Tournament run.
As a No. 3 seed in the Albany Region of the bracket, the Terrapins drew No. 14-seed Radford in the first round of action, with No. 6-seed UCLA and No. 11-seed Tennessee joining them in the College Park pod for the first two rounds.
The Highlanders are coming off a 17-1 record in the Big South to take home the regular season title, and as the top seed in the conference tournament, they steamrolled three teams on their way to a championship and an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament.
Maryland, on the other hand, is coming off a demoralizing loss to Megan Gustafson and the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Big Ten tournament championship game back on March 10. It’s the second consecutive year the Terps have entered March Madness following a defeat.
Saturday’s game is slated to tip off at 11 a.m. ET and the game can be watched on ESPN2, depending on your region. A coverage map can be found here. The game will also be streaming on WatchESPN and the ESPN app.
Radford Highlanders (26-6, 17-1 Big South)
2017-18 record: 24-9, 15-3
Head coach Mike McGuire is wrapping up his sixth season with the Highlanders, with this being his first NCAA Tournament berth. Under his leadership, Radford made the WNIT three times in four years entering this season, but now the team gets to participate in the big dance for just the fourth time in program history, and the first since 1996. This is McGuire’s first college head coaching job after assisting at Richmond for six seasons.
Players to know
Destinee Walker, senior, guard/forward, 5’11, No. 10. A three-year starter with the Highlanders, Saturday may be the last game of Walker’s collegiate career. Her final season has been a great one, as she currently is posting a career-high in scoring with 14 points per game to lead the team. Walker is also securing an average of 6.4 rebounds to help the team on the glass.
Lydia Rivers, redshirt junior, forward, 6’2, No. 20. After showing great promise as a freshman, Rivers’ career was derailed by a torn ACL that cost her her sophomore season. After redshirting and taking last year to ease her way back into peak performance, Rivers is now dominating opponents thanks to her size. She currently averages 12.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per contest, posting 15 double-doubles throughout the season.
Khiana Johnson, junior, guard, 5’7, No. 4. It’s been a steady rise for Johnson thus far, as her scoring has improved in each of her three years with the Highlanders. She is now up to 11 points per game, shooting 38 percent from the floor. And Johnson also serves as the lead facilitator, averaging 3.6 assists per contest.
Defense. Radford didn’t win the Big South by accident, and much of that success was due to a high level of play on the defensive end. On the season, the Highlanders allow just 54.6 points per game to opponents, good for 11th-best in the entire nation. That low figure is a result of shockingly low shooting percentages, as Radford allows the opposition to make 33.9 percent of its field goals and just 25.2 percent of its three-pointers. Those marks rank sixth and second in the country, respectively.
Not much. The Highlanders are the best team in the Big South Conference by a pretty wide margin, and as such, they rank in the top tier of nearly every major category. The only thing they don’t do at an elite level is force takeaways, but that’s more than made up for with good ball control on offense and a stiff style of defense.
Three things to watch
1. How does Maryland come out? Saturday’s game will be the team’s first in nearly two full weeks. That time off is great for recovery and resetting focus, but it could also lead to rust and a lingering thought of the last defeat. As the No. 3 seed facing a No. 14, the Terrapins should have a relatively easy go of it in the first round, but if they start slow, they could face an easy deficit.
2. Can Radford score enough to keep things close? In women’s basketball, upsets are far less common than in the men’s game. However, it is still March Madness, and anything can happen. The Highlanders have the benefit of receiving points from everywhere on the court, as four players average double figures and the fifth scores 9.2 points per game. With the defense they possess, they could make things much closer than expected.
3. Who steps up alongside Kaila Charles? After averaging over 26 points per game in the Big Ten tournament, Charles is playing the best basketball of her career and should continue that dominance in the NCAA Tournament. However, as seen against Iowa, she can’t always win by herself. It’ll take someone else to complement her performance. Taylor Mikesell has been terrific, but Radford excels at three-point defense. Stephanie Jones had a few poor outings down the stretch, and she could struggle against the Highlanders’ size in the post. It’s unclear who will step up for Maryland, but someone must if the Terps want to win.