Just three days after its most consequential victory of the season, the Maryland women’s basketball team followed with perhaps its biggest letdown.
After upsetting No. 7 Notre Dame on the road Thursday, the Terrapins opened what is expected to be a rigorous Big Ten slate with a 90-67 loss to unranked Nebraska Sunday at XFINITY Center. The loss dropped Maryland’s record to 7-3 and denied coach Brenda Frese in her bid to become the 17th active Div. I women’s basketball coach with 600 career wins. Frese has a career record of 599-173.
“Obviously a lot of disappointment in our locker room, and rightly so,” Freese said. “... I thought they exposed us in every way possible.”
Maryland led 36-31 at halftime, but a second-half shooting clinic by junior Jaz Shelley swung the game in Nebraska’s favor. The point guard from Australia tallied 16 points on 6-of-6 shooting in the third quarter. She finished with a game-high 29 points and accounted for six of the Cornhuskers’ 12 three-pointers.
Prior to Sunday’s 90-point outburst, Nebraska had never scored more than 75 points against Maryland.
“I think we’re disappointed, obviously, in our defense,” Frese said. “We weren’t able to bring that [energy.] You can have tired legs or not be able to shoot the basketball on offense, but the defensive side I think is probably the most disappointing. But on the same end, Nebraska came in and really took it to us.”
The Terps finished the game with just 11 assists to 17 turnovers. They committed 21 fouls, with key players Diamond Miller and Brinae Alexander hampered at varying points by foul trouble.
Here are three things we learned following Maryland’s upset loss:
1. The Big Ten runs deeper than its elite teams
The most recent Associated Press coaches’ poll served as a demonstration of the Big Ten conference’s strength. Three schools — Ohio State (4), Indiana (5), and Iowa (10) — were ranked in the top 10, with Michigan (17) and Maryland (20) also among the top 25.
But following their upset victory over the Terps, the Cornhuskers showed that there is more to the conference than its elite programs. Returning five starters from a team that qualified last year for the NCAA Tournament, Nebraska earned its first-ever victory over Maryland Sunday. The Terps had previously been 15-0 all-time against the Cornhuskers.
Prior to the Nebraska game, Frese called this year’s crop of Big Ten teams “the most competitive from top to bottom I’ve seen since coming in.”
“What has traditionally been the bottom — a ton of new coaching changes have elevated their teams,” she said. “So there is no off night that you can have. Anybody can beat anyone, which I think is exciting for such a powerful league.”
Maryland will continue over the next several weeks to encounter some of the less-heralded schools in the conference. The Terps will continue the Big Ten portion of their schedule Thursday with a trip to Purdue. In an 8-day stretch from Dec. 30 to Jan. 7, they will face Minnesota, Rutgers and Michigan State. A Jan. 12 clash at Indiana could mark Maryland’s first conference game against a ranked opponent.
2. The Terps are searching for consistency from their transfer players
Senior guards Abby Meyers, Lavender Briggs and Elisa Pinzan — a trio of transfer players that Maryland was expecting to depend on heavily this season — combined Sunday for eight points on 4-for-15 shooting. The limited production was a key reason that the Terps managed only 67 points, one of their lowest scoring outputs of the season.
It was a sign that 10 games in, Maryland is still learning how best to integrate several key additions. Meyers has been a dependable scorer for much of the season but has contributed a combined 12 points across her last two games. Pinzan has posted efficient numbers from the field but is averaging career-lows of 4 points on 3.8 shot attempts per game.
Briggs endured a three-game stretch between Nov. 20 and Nov. 26 where she did not make a field goal. She has found the scoring column more consistently in her last three games, all off the bench, but is still shooting 28.2% from the field for the season.
“We need Abby to do more, and we need [Briggs] to do more,” Frese said. “And we need our vets to step up, and they’re more than capable.”
One transfer player who seems to be settling into her role is Alexander. The senior guard has emerged as a three-point threat, shooting 47.4% from beyond the arc, including 3-of-7 on Sunday. After playing only 11 minutes in Maryland’s season opener, the former Vanderbilt standout has gradually earned more time on the court.
“I felt like even at my previous school, I was a shooter,” Alexander said. “And so I pride myself with being that spot-up, knock-down, three-point shooter for my team.”
3. Sellers has produced in the starting lineup
A bright spot Sunday for Maryland was the play of sophomore guard Shyanne Sellers, who led the Terps with a career-high 21 points and eight rebounds.
The reigning Big Ten Sixth Player of the Year, Sellers was elevated to the starting lineup beginning with Maryland’s Nov. 26 victory over Towson. In four games as a starter, the Ohio native has filled the stat sheet, averaging 16.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists while attempting nearly six free throws per game. Sellers has also contributed on the defensive end with nine steals and three blocked shots.
“I think [Sellers] has added that defensive spark and offensive downhill mentality that’s kind of rubbed off on a lot of us,” senior forward Faith Masonius said before the Nebraska game “She’s come in [to the starting lineup,] and she’s taken her role seriously and is just doing what she has to do to make our team better.”
Frese is now starting all three returners from last season who are healthy in Sellers, Miller and Masonius. Following the loss to Nebraska, she reiterated that the rotation remains a work in progress.
“We’re continuing to evaluate,” she said. “We’ve said this as a staff: By no means is the starting lineup in place. We’re still continuing to learn players, and we’re still trying to get levels of consistency.”
Sapna Bansil is a pediatric occupational therapist turned journalist who is enrolled in the graduate program at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.