Despite a season in which it has won 31 games, including 10 in a row, and collected a record 10th ACC tournament title, the fifth-ranked Maryland women’s basketball team really hasn’t been in the national discourse with other powerhouses, such as undefeated Baylor or seven-time NCAA champion Connecticut.
So the way Terrapins Coach Brenda Frese figures it, heading into Tuesday’s game against Notre Dame, the top seed in the Raleigh Region and the Big East regular season champion, the target is on the No. 4 Fighting Irish in their quest to get back to the Final Four after losing in last season’s NCAA final.
“For us there’s no pressure,” Frese said. “At the start of the season, no one expected us to be here. We’re going to go out as two seed, and we’re going to just play our hearts out for 40 minutes. We’re going to be 12 strong fighting to be able to have a chance to go to Denver.”
The Mile High city is the site of next week’s Final Four, where Maryland hasn’t been since it won its first and only national championship in 2006.
By all accounts, this season’s Maryland team has achieved beyond the relative inexperience on the roster, regardless of the outcome in the region final. At the start of the season, Duke and Miami were considered a cut above in the ACC, with Maryland needing to prove itself to reach that level.
The Terrapins’ starting lineup includes three sophomores and a junior, none of whom has advanced this far in the NCAA tournament. By constrast, Notre Dame starts two graduate students and one senior.
“I don’t think we feel any pressure,” said sophomore guard Laurin Mincy, who scored a game-high 21 points with a career-best 12 rebounds in Sunday’s 81-74 victory over Texas A&M in the round of 16. “Like Coach said, no one expected us to be here and get this far.
“I think in the second round when we played Louisville we did have a little pressure being that we didn’t get past the second round last year, but from now on, we’re just playing.”
Maryland beat the Cardinals; 72-68, to get out of College Park and to the fourth regional semifinals in Frese’s 10 seasons. Last season, Georgetown came to Comcast Center and throttled Maryland, 79-57, in the round of 32.
The Terrapins, though, beat Georgetown, 72-53, during this regular season at Comcast Center. The Hoyas were among three common opponents between Maryland and Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish toppled Georgetown at McDonough Gym, 80-60, on Jan. 10.
Duke and Louisville also played Maryland and Notre Dame. Maryand split with Duke the during the regular season. The Fighting Irish nipped Duke, 56-54, on Nov. 26 and won on the road against the Cardinals, 68-52, on Feb. 20.
Notre Dame has been ranked in the top four all season, reaching its peak at No. 2. The Terrapins’ current ranking is their highest this season.
“A lot of people can try to set that stage right now that Maryland’s a favorite, but I’m not sure where that’s coming from,” Frese said. “Maryland hasn’t been in the national conversation all year. It’s been the same four to five teams most of the season. For us, we need to continue to play and not focus on on all the extra things out there, keep focusing on the now and do what we do.”