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Maryland women’s basketball NCAA Tournament preview: First round vs Mount St. Mary’s

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The Terps enter the tournament as the top scoring offense in the country.

After winning sole possession of the Big Ten regular season title and the Big Ten tournament championship, No. 2 seed Maryland women’s basketball is ready for the next step.

Since November, head coach Brenda Frese’s team has been talking about its national championship aspirations. Now, the time has come for the Terps to run the table.

Maryland will take on Mount St. Mary’s in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at the Alamodome Monday.

“The cool thing is, just love [the team’s] mindset. They understand it, they’re not going to make this bigger than what it is. There’s been a great looseness, you know, a lot of fun just like we’ve done all season long,” Frese said. “So I don’t expect anything to change and obviously we have a great test ahead of us in Mount St. Mary’s.”

The Terps head into this tournament with the top-scoring offense in the country, averaging 91.3 points per game. Six players on the Maryland roster average 10 or more points per game: sophomore guards Ashley Owusu and Diamond Miller, senior forward Chloe Bibby, senior guard Katie Benzan, redshirt sophomore forward Mimi Collins and freshman forward Angel Reese.

Owusu and Miller lead the team with 18.3 points per game and 17.2 points per game, respectively. Each was named to the All-Big Ten First Team.

“This is the tournament, it is a big deal but I don’t want to come in and, you know, try and do too much or try to do too little,” Owusu said. “So just coming in and playing the way I’ve always played and just helping my team.”

Benzan’s three-point field goal percentage (.506) leads the country and Owusu is fourth in assists (151). Both players also received AP All-American honors, with Owusu named to the third team and Benzan earning an honorable mention.

Maryland last played Mount St. Mary’s in December 2017 at the Xfinity Center. The Terps won, 97-57. Overall against the Mount, Maryland is 4-0. Monday’s matchup will start at 4 p.m. and air on ESPN.

Mount St. Mary’s Mountaineers (17-6, 14-4 NEC)

2019-20 record: 20-11 (14-4 NEC)

Head coach Maria Marchesano is in her fourth year as the leader of the Mount after a stint as an associate head coach at Indiana University—Purdue University Indianapolis. In her four seasons at Mount St. Mary’s, Marchesano has amassed a 61-53 record.

Since joining the Mountaineers, Marchesano has turned the program along. During the 2019-20 season, Mount St. Mary’s 20 wins were team’s most for the team since the 1999-2000 season. That year, the Mountaineers clinched the No. 2 seed in the North East Conference Tournament.

Mount St. Mary’s was scheduled to face Maryland earlier this season, however, that matchup was canceled due to positive coronavirus tests in the Mount’s program. As a result, Mount St. Mary’s canceled or postponed six games between Dec. 8 and Dec. 22. Aside from that stretch, the team had an additional eight games either canceled or postponed.

Despite all the schedule changes, Mount St. Mary’s still had a .739 win percentage. Although they finished the regular season with back-to-back losses to Wagner, the Mountaineers most recently defeated Wagner to win the NEC championship, 70-38.

Players to know

Kendall Bresee, redshirt senior guard, 5-foot-10, No. 3 — Bresee leads the team in points, field goals, free throws, rebounds, assists, steals and minutes. The Maryland native averages 14.1 points per game and hits 11.5 field goals per game.Following her performance this season, Bresee earned both Northeast Conference Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors. She also earned a spot as a First Team All-NEC selection.

During the 2019-20 season, her first active season with the Mount, Bresee averaged 11.3 points, 6.5 boards and 3.7 assists per game earning her a spot on the All-NEC Third Team spot.

Michaela Harrison, junior guard, 5-foot-7, No. 10 — Harrison leads from behind the arc. She averages 6.6 three-point attempts per game and hits an average of 2.2 of them. Against Bryant on Feb. 20, Harrison had a career-high nine three-point field goals made to set a new program record for most triples in a single game. In that matchup, she went 9-for-14 from deep. Harrison is second on the team behind Bresee in points per game, averaging 12.6 points per game.

In the Mountaineer’s dominant 70-38 win over Wagner in the NEC Championship, Harrison played for 37 minutes, hit one three and had 15 points. This season, she earned recognition as a Second Team All-NEC player and became the 28th player in program history to hit 1,000 points and the 10th to do so in three years.

Aryna Taylor, redshirt sophomore guard, 5-foot-10, No. 13 - Taylor is tied with Harrison for the most three-point shots made this season with 48. The duo leads the team from deep and Taylor has a .366 shooting percentage from behind the arc. Taylor had a career-high 19 points in two separate games this season and a season-high five field goals made at Long Island University.

Taylor’s performance earned her a Third Team All-NEC selection. She ranks 14th on the league’s top-scoring chart and her average of two threes made a game are tied for fifth in the NEC.

Strength

Free throws. The Mountaineers have a free throw percentage of .797. For comparison, the Terps percentage is slightly lower at .790. Bresee averages the most successful shots from the charity stripe with 4.0 per game.

It was Mount St. Mary’s free throw percentage that helped it clinch its first regular-season conference title in 20 years. In the third quarter of that matchup, the Mountaineers had just a one-point lead over Saint Francis University but ended the quarter with seven straight field-goal attempts to extend their lead as the game went into the final quarter.

Weakness

Turnovers. Mount St. Mary’s has turned the ball over 343 times this season, an average of 14.9 per game. If they make mistakes in this first round matchup, it will be difficult for the Mount to win this game. The Terps average 20.2 points off takeaways this season and have continued to capitalize on their opponent’s mistakes. Maryland plays at a fast pace, and if the Mount creates opportunities for the Terps, Frese’s squad will take them.

Three things to watch

1. How will the Terps build on their momentum? Maryland has just two losses this season, and after dropping the game against then-No. 17 Ohio State, the team have been rolling. The Terps are on a 13-game win streak and have put up some incredible numbers in the process. Since the loss, they have scored over 100 points in three different matchups and 90 or more in six others. After clinching the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and winning sole possession of the regular-season title, the Terps took down Nebraska, Northwestern and Iowa in a dominant fashion to win the conference tournament.

The Terps have been waiting for March. Now it’s time to see how they can build on this already historic season.

“It’s just preparation as usual. We’re not doing anything different because what we’ve been doing is working and we’re just we’re staying ready,” Bibby said. “I think our coaches have got us really prepared for this moment and just sticking together and keeping that confidence.”

2. Can Mount St. Mary’s slow Maryland’s offense down? The key to stopping Maryland’s No. 1 scoring offense in the nation is to slow the Terps down. In Maryland’s two losses this season, their opponents did just that, holding the Terps to just 72 and 86 points, well below their average. The first time Northwestern and Maryland met, the Wildcats held the Terps to 62 points and kept it close for the majority of the game. If the Mount wants to move on to the second round, they will have to slow Maryland’s pace.

3. What role will the forwards play? In the Big Ten tournament, forwards Chloe Bibby, Mimi Collins, Angel Reese, Faith Masonius and Alaysia Styles all had an impact on the Terps’ success.

Starters Bibby and Collins played consistently throughout the entire tournament and both had incredibly strong performances in the finals against Iowa. Bibby scored a team-high 21 points and shot 69% from the field. Collins had 17 points shooting 50% from behind the arc and had six boards, two assists and a steal.

The bench contributed in a big way too. Against Northwestern, Styles put up a team-high 15 points in 23 minutes. She shot a perfect 7-for-7 from the field and shot 1-for-2 from the free-throw line. Also against the Wildcats, Reese had quite the showing. The Baltimore native had her first career double-double with 10 points and 11 boards. In that same game, Masonius had 11 points, four boards and three assists. In the championship against Iowa, Masonius had eight points and shot 4-for-4 from the field, grabbed five boards, had three assists and two steals.

It will be interesting to see how these keys to Maryland’s offense perform on this stage with only Bibby having experience in the NCAA Tournament.