Maryland women’s basketball coach Brenda Frese says that trips to the Sweet 16 never get old. As this year’s visit is the 11th in 21 years in College Park, you’re to be forgiven if think you’re being fed a load of coach speak.
However, the journey to Greenville, S.C. and this year’s regional semifinal has been perhaps the strangest for Frese and the Terps, largely because of the large number of players who weren’t there last year.
“This season it really ranks right up there, just given that no one expected us to be here this year,” said Frese before Saturday’s meeting with Notre Dame. “Just extremely proud of our staff and our team for buying in and trusting in the process.”
Almost immediately following last year’s regional semifinal loss to Stanford, the Terps lost four starters to a combination of graduation and the transfer portal, which saw Baltimore native Angel Reese leave for LSU and guard Ashley Owusu head for Virginia Tech.
Frese herself turned to the transfer portal, bringing in three key members of the rotation to surround returnees Diamond Miller and Shyanne Sellars.
In all, nine new players joined the Maryland roster. The Terps (27-6) slogged through the early part of the schedule, finishing tied for second in the Big Ten and earning a No. 2 seed in their NCAA tournament region.
“If you watched us in November and December, it wasn't pretty,’ Frese said. “It took a lot of games and with the really second toughest schedule in the country that was built for players that were no longer with us.”
Said Sellers: “I think our team did a phenomenal job of just putting their head down and going to work. There wasn't too much complaining about anything, and everyone was really open and welcoming to everyone. Like we always hung out. I think that was one of the main reasons that we were able to connect so fast.”
One of those December contests was a 74-72 win at Notre Dame, where Miller, a second-team All America, hit the game-winner at the buzzer.
The Fighting Irish (27-5), who won the ACC regular season, will enter Saturday’s game without starting point guard Olivia Miles, herself an All-America. Miles suffered a leg injury near the end of the regular season and is being held out for the NCAA tournament.
The winner of this game will meet the winner of the South Carolina-UCLA Monday night in the regional final.