Terps rely on typically well-designed and ruthlessly efficient offense in opening tournament win

Second-seeded Maryland will play seventh-seeded Arizona on Sunday in College Park

Published on: March 17, 2023 4:31 PM EDT|Updated on: March 18, 2023 3:06 PM EDT

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Almost five minutes into an NCAA Tournament game that already seemed out of hand, the Maryland women’s basketball team couldn’t shoot a lick. The second-seeded Terps missed jumpers. They missed free throws. They sometimes missed the rim altogether. They owed their 9-0 lead over No. 15 seed Holy Cross to takeaways and layups.

“I think, going in, it’s easy to have the jitters and the nerves,” senior Brinae Alexander said after a comfortable 93-61 first-round win Friday, the team’s first game since losing to Iowa almost two weeks ago in the Big Ten Conference Tournament semifinals.

But Brenda Frese’s Terps don’t miss for long. Senior Lavender Briggs’ 3-pointer pushed their lead to 12-0, and a jumper from senior forward Faith Masonius a few minutes later unleashed a torrent of swishes inside Xfinity Center, one outside shot after another burying the Patriot League champions under a pile of points.

Over an eight-minute stretch spanning the first and second quarters, Maryland hit nine of 11 jump shots and turned a 12-2 lead into a 46-15 runaway. Holy Cross (24-9) had given up an average of just 53 points per game last week along its way to a conference tournament title. The Terps (26-6) entered halftime with 52.

“We do have a lot of lethal weapons on this team,” said Alexander, a Vanderbilt transfer who had a game-high 18 points and was one of five Maryland players to score in double figures. “That definitely makes us hard to guard and hard to scout as well, because you can’t just shut down one player.”

That’s a constant in College Park, where Maryland will host seventh-seeded Arizona — which beat West Virginia 75-62 — in a second-round matchup Sunday (meaning Frese will get her first chance to coach the Terps against her alma mater). Even on days when the defense struggles or the turnovers mount, the Terps can rely on a high-octane offense capable of shooting displays like Saturday’s: 52.2% overall, 47.4% from beyond the arc, 21 assists on 36 made shots.

This barrage came in waves. Every Terp who played scored, led by top reserve Alexander, senior Abby Meyers (16 points), senior All-American Diamond Miller (13 points) and sophomore Shyanne Sellers (13 points, eight assists).

Without a reliable post presence inside, Maryland’s offense — the nation’s fourth-most efficient, according to the Massey Ratings — has found its strength in numbers. When a reporter told Meyers after the game that her shooting accuracy has improved since her final season at Princeton, where she earned Ivy League Player of the Year honors, she was taken aback. But it made sense. She didn’t have to carry an offense anymore, just shoulder her load.

“We have so many weapons on this team, especially Diamond, right?” Meyers said. “She gets to the middle, gets to the paint, everyone collapses on her, and I have a wide-open shot. So I have to do less work to make my shots, and credit to the people on court with me, and they make my life easier, which is great.”

“I think for me, it’s definitely playing with girls that can also score at the same high level around me,” said Alexander, whose field-goal percentage has gone up (40.9% to 42.1%) even as her scoring has gone down (15.2 points to 8.7 points per game) since arriving in the offseason. “I think that opens up the floor a lot, and that makes us hard to guard as a team.”

Under Frese, Maryland usually builds an offense that can hum. Over the past decade, only one Terps team has ranked outside the top 36 nationally in 3-point-shooting accuracy. This iteration has masked its lack of size inside with a deadeye group of shooters (79% from the foul line, eighth nationally) and an active, long defense that converts takeaways into easy offense. On Saturday, Maryland scored 37 points off Holy Cross’ 24 turnovers.

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Bad shots were rare. Off misses, they pumped the ball upcourt. In half-court sets, they probed the Crusaders’ defense with patience.

“When you look at five players in double figures, you have to be really, really efficient when you have so much great talent around you,” said Frese, who improved to 18-0 at Maryland in first-round games. “So the shot selection matters, especially if you’re only going to get seven, eight shots. When you look at, like, a Brinae, you look at Lavender [a Florida transfer], they came from programs where they were taking a lot of shots, and so maybe your percentages weren’t high. So I think it really fine-tunes them and makes them a better player that they’ve got to be really efficient on the offensive end.”

Sometimes efficiency means having to ignore your teammates. When freshman reserve Ava Sciolla took the court late in the fourth quarter, Alexander at one point told her, loudly, to shoot from deep. She didn’t; Sciolla later told Alexander that she wasn’t as open as she seemed.

Not long after, Sciolla got the ball again. This time, she penetrated inside, got to the paint, stopped, spun and rose for a shot she was more comfortable taking. It went in. Frese, smiling, clapped from her seat on the bench.