By the time the Maryland women’s basketball team steps onto the court for the first round of the NCAA tournament Saturday, it will have been two weeks since the Terrapins last played.
The extended layoff comes following a taxing regular season that included an expanded ACC schedule of 18 games and two games in the ACC tournament, most recently a 72-65 loss to North Carolina in the semifinals March 9 that prevented Maryland from repeating as champion.
“The week couldn’t have come at a better time,” said Terrapins Coach Brenda Frese, who has been a bit under the weather.
Well rested and eager to continue in the postseason, the Terrapins will gather Monday night at Comcast Center to watch the NCAA tournament selection show to find out where they’re seeded and which opponent they draw. What Maryland does know for certain is that its first two games will be at Comcast Center.
The Midshipmen (21-11) also are awaiting their seed and opponent after rolling to a third consecutive Patriot League tournament title on Saturday with a 72-53 over Holy Cross. Junior guard Kara Pollinger scored 24 points to match a career high and tournament MVP Alix Membreno, a junior guard, had 38 points, 28 rebounds and 21 assists over three games.
“We’re incredibly proud of where we sit right now,” Navy Coach Stefanie Pemper said. “We’re obviously going to get a really low seed in the tournament and have a really tall task ahead of us.”
The Terrapins, meantime, can make a case for being a No. 2 seed this season given a second-place finish in the ACC during the regular season and a schedule that includes four victories over ranked opponents.
That Maryland was able to remain ranked in the top 10 wire-to-wire in the regular season (it has since fallen to No. 12) is all the more notable considering how many injuries and illnesses the team has been forced to withstand. The run of misfortune began in late October when sophomore Brene Moseley, in line to become the starting point guard, tore her anterior cruciate ligament during a scrimmage and was lost for the season.
A month later, junior shooting guard Laurin Mincy suffered a season-ending ACL tear against then-No. 19 Nebraska in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in Lincoln, Neb. Mincy was Maryland’s second-leading scorer last season and finished with a game-high 21 points in an 81-74 comeback win against Texas A&M in last year’s region semifinals in Raleigh, N.C.
Maryland also lost reserve center Essence Townsend to a torn ACL, and freshman forward Tierney Pfirman, who had been playing extensively in the Terrapins’ limited rotation, dislocated her kneecap in January and was out for a month. After re-entering the lineup, Pfirman developed mononucleosis and remains out indefinitely after not accompanying the team to Greensboro, N.C., for the ACC tournament, meaning the Terrapins enter the NCAA tournament with a rotation comprising primarily six players.
Junior forward Alyssa Thomas also missed several days of practice with stomach discomfort heading into the ACC tournament, although she recorded the first triple-double in ACC tournament history with a career-high 32 points to go with 13 rebounds and 10 assists in a 92-81 overtime win against Wake Forest in the quarterfinals.
“Obviously the NCAAs helps us because it’s not consecutive days,” Frese said. “Given the amount of minutes our top six players are playing, that definitely helps us going into this tournament.”