COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — There have been times this season when the Maryland women’s basketball team evoked memories of the squad that matured into NCAA champions.
Recently, however, the 16th-ranked Terrapins have looked their age — which is very young.
Coach Brenda Frese is working with a roster that includes six freshmen, three sophomores and not a single senior. Despite their inexperience, the Terrapins won seven straight over a three-week stretch that carried into February.
After Maryland buried then-No. 10 North Carolina and beat Wake Forest 75-44 late last month, Frese spoke excitedly about how quickly her youthful team had grown up.
“We’re a million times better than the beginning of the season because we’ve now played so many games together, along with the practices,” she said. “You can see the chemistry on the floor, the unselfishness we’re playing with. … Kind of reminds me of another team we had back in the day.”
Frese was referring to the 2006 national championship team, which relied heavily on the collective talent of five underclassmen.
This squad may accomplish something great, too, but it’s evidently not going to come easy.
The good feeling generated by that seven-game run has disappeared. After losing at Miami last week, the Terrapins (20-5, 6-4 ACC) dropped a 60-57 decision at home Sunday to a Virginia team hovering around .500.
On Thursday night, Maryland will seek to avoid its first three-game skid of the season at home against No. 7 Duke (23-2, 9-1).
“We learn a lot from our losses,” freshman forward Alyssa Thomas said. “We know we can stick together as a team. When I see how we played against North Carolina, I know we can play against anybody.”
One reason behind the recent digression is that the Terrapins have started poorly. Maryland trailed by 14 at halftime against Miami, then missed nine of its first 10 shots to quickly fall behind Virginia.
“I am confused by it at this point in the season,” Frese said. “Obviously our starting five have got to bring that energy and then it’s got to transfer to everybody. We’ve got to use this adversity to make us tighter as a unit as we move forward.”
Even though Maryland has resided in the Top 25 for the entire season, that doesn’t assure it a place in the NCAA tournament.
“It’s a matter of getting everyone to understand how serious this is,” junior center Lynetta Kizer said. “We’re not guaranteed a tournament spot right now. We want to win. We have to regroup.”
A win against Duke would go a long way toward getting the Terrapins back on track. The Blue Devils won the first meeting this season, 71-64, by outscoring Maryland 11-4 down the stretch.
Frese would have preferred her team take some momentum into the rematch, but she’s confident the Terps have what it takes to return to form.
“We’ve been in this situation before,” Frese said. “I know what type of players we recruited and what kind of character we have in this locker room, and I fully expect that they’ll respond.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)