In-season injuries also compelled Frese to tinker with the rotation. Pfirman dislocated her kneecap Jan. 19, hours before the Terrapins were scheduled to board a plane bound for Atlanta to play Georgia Tech. Frese used seven players in the 66-57 win and leaned heavily on her starters, with none playing less than 33 minutes. Howard and Austin combined for just 21 minutes off the bench, but their playing time rose in subsequent weeks with Pfirman out for a month.
Roughly two weeks earlier, starting guard Katie Rutan was face down on the court at Carmichael Arena in Maryland’s 60-57 loss at then-No. 11 North Carolina. The junior transfer who sat out last season had broken her nose, but she came back three days later wearing a protective mask and scored 16 points, including hitting 4 of 6 from three-point range, at Clemson in an 80-40 victory.
“No matter who we lose or whatever, we’re a strong team,” said Howard, named to the all-freshman team in voting by ACC coaches. “We come together all the time, and I never had a lack of faith in us after losing anybody.”
That the depleted Terrapins must win three games in three days in Greensboro, N.C., to repeat as ACC tournament champions hasn’t fazed them either. Having Thomas, a two-time ACC player of the year, and all-conference senior forward Tianna Hawkins certainly helps, but the Terrapins also figure luck may be on their side this time after winning a coin flip Sunday night to become the No. 2 seed.
That was the last-resort tiebreaking procedure the ACC used because Maryland and North Carolina finished with identical 14-4 conference records and split their two meetings this season. The Terrapins won the rematch resoundingly, 85-59, primarily using six players.
“Sometimes when you allow yourself to reflect back on our graduation losses as well as the injuries, it’s amazing to see what this team has accomplished,” Frese said. “But obviously between the staff and the players, we’ve never looked in the past or used it as an excuse. We’ve always had the mentality of, ‘Let’s get better.’ If we have five players today, we’re going to get better today. That’s the mind-set we’ve had all season long, and as a result we’ve never had a pity party and had any excuses.”