Maryland women’s basketball is back in the postseason, and junior guard Kaila Charles has a message for all its players: “Focus on what we can control.”
The Terrapins are in an odd spot, as they won’t know who their opponent in the quarterfinals will be until the day before. They’ll face either Michigan State or Northwestern, who play on Thursday afternoon to see who advances to face the No. 1 seed.
For Maryland, that may actually be a benefit. For starters, Maryland has already played both teams, so it’s not as if it’ll be surprised by the team that faces it on Friday at noon. And while it may be harder for the Terps to to gameplan without having the knowledge of who they’re playing, this allows them to focus on playing Maryland basketball.
“Right now we’re just focusing on our standard, which is defend, rebound and run,” Charles said Wednesday. “Both teams are really good, we had tough games with both teams, but we got to just focus on us and not really worry about them because we don’t know who we’re going to play.”
That’s true for the entire tournament, as Maryland won’t be able to know its opponent in the subsequent rounds for hours after its own game ends. That’s the other side of the double-edged sword in being the No. 1 seed.
“In these tournaments you face everyone, you know what they look like, and it’s being able to execute the things that you need to do to be able to be successful,” head coach Brenda Frese said.
In winning the Big Ten regular season title, Maryland was granted a double bye in the conference tournament and faces the most lenient schedule possible if it advances. That’s just what the doctor ordered, especially with senior forward Brianna Fraser remaining day-to-day with a sprained left ankle.
“The tournament is going to be tough every single game,” Charles said. “To play back-to-back-to-back is really tough on everyone’s bodies, so to get that double bye is an advantage for us because we get to rest for two games essentially.”
“It’s huge for us,” Frese said. “To be able to play early, and if you’re fortunate to move on, to have that extra rest time for the second game are critical.”
Maryland has stayed remarkably healthy this season, save for Fraser’s ankle with two games remaining. She didn’t get to play when the team won the regular-season title on senior day, and she may not be ready for Friday’s game. But she’s getting a chance to recover in time thanks to the extra time off.
“We can have time to prepare ourselves mentally and physically with recovery: eating, sleeping,” Charles said. “So making sure that we’re all doing the little things and making sure our freshmen know that taking care of our bodies is going to be very essential because these games are going to be brutal, especially playing three days in a row.”
March is known for games that come down to the wire, and the Terrapins are no stranger to that. In the last three games alone—all wins to clinch the regular-season title—the Terps outscored their opponents by less than five points per game as they all were decided in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter.
That experience in grinding out wins will certainly come in handy for Maryland as postseason play gets underway.
“It helps us with our mentality and learning how to play in those situations,” Charles said. “Like Purdue, we had a foul at the end that we really didn’t need. But we learned from that and once we went to our next game we were trying to be careful on defense.”
“There’s not a better teacher than to be able to have those late-game situations that you’ve been through so you can gain the confidence from it,” Frese said. “We’ve been able to teach out of it, and even better when you can learn from a win.”
“I think it’s prepared us very well, especially these last few games where it’s been really closing coming down to the stretch,” junior forward Stephanie Jones said. “Us being able to pull them out, I think that’s given us a lot of experience, especially for some of our younger players.”
While there have been some inconsistencies throughout the year, the Terrapins were still able to win the league title. And with Frese at the helm, there’s no telling what the ceiling is for this squad. Winning the Big Ten tournament, and even making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, are well within the realm of possibility if the Terps can avoid their past failures.
“We’re putting all the pieces together, learning from our mistakes and the lessons that we’ve had from every game,” Charles said.