COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — Using a vastly different blueprint from a year ago, Maryland is back in the Final Four.
The Terrapins earned a berth in the national semifinal last season by relying heavily on the all-around play of All-American senior Alyssa Thomas.
There are no such standouts on this team, so the Terrapins have featured a more balanced attack; four different players have led them in scoring during their four NCAA Tournament victories.
In the opener against New Mexico State, Brionna Jones had 22 points and 12 rebounds. Two days later, with Princeton relentlessly hounding the 6-foot-3 Jones in the paint, senior guard Laurin Mincy drilled six 3-pointers and scored 27 points.
Shatori Walker-Kimbrough took the reins against Duke with a 24-point performance, and Lexie Brown’s 15-point effort on Monday night against Tennessee resulted in a net-cutting ceremony following a 58-48 win that earned Maryland (34-2) the Spokane Regional title and a shot at Connecticut (36-1) on Sunday in Tampa, Florida.
UConn will be favored, but the two-time defending national champions just might have their hands full trying to determine the best way to defend the versatile Terps.
“All season long we’ve been pretty balanced,” Brown said. “If they key on our bigs, our guards step up. If they key on our guards, our bigs step up.”
With Thomas gone, Maryland entered its first season in the Big Ten knowing this much: No one person could replace the leading scorer in school history.
So the Terrapins decided that everyone would have to contribute to the team’s success. Four different players averaged in double figures, and Maryland became the third team to go unbeaten in Big Ten during the regular season before sweeping the conference tournament.
The nets came down in Spokane after the Terrapins extended their school-record winning streak to 28 games.
“No one expected us to get here,” Mincy said, “especially like this, with this team. Anyone can step up.”
Princeton found that out in absorbing its first defeat. The Tigers dared the Terrapins to shoot from the outside, and Maryland took advantage by going 12 for 20 from beyond the arc — including 7 for 8 in the second half.
“They can win in a variety of ways,” Princeton coach Courtney Banghart said. “They have great guards, they have big posts, they’re well coached and have some of the best players in the country.”
Coming off a miserable 0-for-7 shooting performance against Duke, Brown elevated her game against Tennessee. In her view, it was simply her turn to be the one to shine.
“Tori has done it for us, Bri’s done it for us, Mincy’s done it for us,” she said. “When your number is called you got to be ready.”
And Maryland has many options.
Against Connecticut, the key contributor just might be reserve Tierney Pfirman, who scored 11 against Princeton, or Brene Moseley, who tallied 15 against Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament.
“Within a game, we find out different areas we can expose with our strengths,” coach Brenda Frese said. “All season long, it’s been our depth.”
Frese was asked after Monday night’s victory to recall the circumstances of a year ago, when Thomas had 33 points and 13 rebounds in a regional semifinal win over top-seeded Tennessee.
“You circle back and you watch that team last year and watch the game with Tennessee, we were so young. We didn’t know how good we were,” Frese recalled. “Fortunate for us, Alyssa shouldered the load to kind of bring us along. Because of that, that experience that we were able to get last season has really propelled this team.”
(Copyright 2015 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)