COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — In its first foray into the NCAA women’s tournament, Quinnipiac didn’t take a bus trip south from Connecticut just to practice in a huge arena and serve as fodder for the home team.
No, the 13th-seeded Bobcats are intent upon beating No. 4 seed Maryland on Saturday. They’ve even outlined the manner in which the first-round upset will occur.
Quinnipiac (30-2) expects to use its depth to wear down the Terrapins (24-7) and utilize its ball-hawking ability to force free-wheeling Maryland into a slew of turnovers.
“Our advantage is they only play eight players or so and we have 10, five who can come in and pick up where the starters left off,” forward Brittany McQuain said. “Our depth wore down teams all year. It is one of our biggest advantages going into Saturday.”
The second unit has been dubbed The Gold Rush, which coach Tricia Fabbri says, “allows our first five to go out and play at an intense level for three or four minutes because they know they’re going to get rest.”
The Bobcats are pretty tough on defense, too. They forced a combined 68 turnovers over a three-game stretch to win the Northeast Conference tournament, and now they’re going up against a Maryland squad that averages 17 turnovers per game.
Most of all, Quinnipiac wants to prove it can compete against an Atlantic Coast Conference school on the sport’s biggest stage.
“This is something we’ve looked forward to since we were little girls,” guard Jasmine Martin said. “We’re excited to be here, but at the same time we’re not just here to be one and done. We want to give Maryland a run for their money. A lot of people don’t know who we are, who don’t know how to pronounce Quinnipiac. But at the end of the day, we want people to know who we are, know where Quinnipiac is and what we’re about.”
Quinnipiac hopes to duplicate the recent success of Marist, which faces No. 5 seed Michigan State (24-8) in the second game Saturday. The mid-major Red Foxes (26-6) reached the round of 16 in 2007 and won first-round games in 2008, 2011 and 2012.
“We are well aware of what they have been able to accomplish in the past,” Michigan State forward Courtney Schiffauer said of Marist. “They are a great team and they always do well in the first couple rounds of the tournament.”
Quinnipiac has no such history. Not only do the Bobcats have to battle first-game jitters, they’ve also got to go against a team with a terrific 1-2 scoring punch of Tianna Hawkins and ACC player of the year Alyssa Thomas.
Maryland has missed the NCAA tournament only once since 2003. Quinnipiac guard Gillian Abshire, who went to high school in Maryland, needed no reminder of the Terrapins’ success.
“I grew up coming to the games and watching Brenda Frese coach,” Abshire said. “I always looked up to this program and thought it was awesome. It’s pretty cool coming back and being able to play against them.”
Maryland has no intention of looking past Quinnipiac, which is riding a 22-game winning streak since falling to Georgia Tech on Dec. 29.
“I don’t think this team would be where we are if we took a team lightly,” Frese said. `They haven’t done that all season long, and now you’re on the biggest stage, you’re in the NCAA tournament. You know what’s at stake. If you take a team lightly, you’re going home. Your season’s over.”
Michigan State was bounced in the opening round last season at Maryland, falling to Louisville 67-55. Prior to that, the Spartans had won at least once in seven straight NCAA tournament appearances.
“Getting back here is a new beginning,” Michigan State forward Jasmine Thomas said.
In spite of its history of surprising success in the tournament, Marist is an underdog. The Red Foxes wouldn’t want it any other way after being targeted by the rest of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference en route to winning their eighth straight league title.
“We knew we have our hands full, but it’s kind of nice to take off the bull’s-eye jacket and go and see if we can pull another upset,” coach Brian Giorgis said.
A win over the Spartans would go a long way toward enhancing Marist’s reputation as a giant killer.
“You get labeled that because of what you’ve done in the past, and the nice part is we have some players from that past who have been able to experience it, especially in the last couple of years,” Giorgis said.
That success, said forward Elizabeth Beynnon, “Just gives us hope.”
As far as the Red Foxes are concerned, the stiffer the completion, the better.
“I think as a team, we like being the underdog, we like that challenge,” guard Leanne Ockenden said. “We like to go up against the bigger schools.”
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