NCAA women’s basketball tournament: As Anjale Barrett goes, so goes Maryland

March 16, 2012

In the defining moment of the season so far for the Maryland women’s basketball team, point guard Anjale Barrett had the ball in her hand with a little more than one minute to play and chaos around her.

Teammates were frantically moving down the court trying to elude Georgia Tech defenders bent on stopping the Terrapins from winning the ACC tournament championship game, and the noise inside Greensboro Coliseum had reached a fever pitch.

Amid the turbulence, Barrett’s disposition never wavered. The fifth-year senior instead dribbled the length of the court in a blur, got deep into the lane along the left side and scored on a layup that gave Maryland the lead to stay in a 68-65 victory.

“You would never know if there’s something bothering her,” Coach Brenda Frese said of Barrett. “She’s just been extremely consistent and on a very even keel, and that’s what you’ve got to have from your point guard in terms of your team reflecting that personality.”

In many ways, the Terrapins (28-4) go as Barrett does, echoing Frese’s comments before the start of the season that the team would be only as stout as its point guards. And while Maryland’s identity rests with its imposing front line, those players depend on Barrett to get them the ball in the right spots for the highest-percentage shot.

Barrett finished second in the ACC in assists per game (5.2) and tied for second in assists-to-turnover ratio (1.9) in helping the Terrapins close the season with seven consecutive wins and 10 victories in 11 games. Maryland also won its ACC-record 10th tournament title and earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, where the Terrapins will play No. 15 seed Navy on Saturday in College Park.

For Barrett, this season’s tournament concludes a career in which her ascension has coincided with that of the team. As a sophomore, Barrett had to be more of a scorer because the Terrapins lacked the depth they have this season, and Maryland failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament.

As a junior, Barrett started 31 of 32 games, logged at the time a career high in assists for one season and emerged as a leader on a team with no seniors. She’s assumed even more responsibility on that front this season as one of three seniors, doing a great deal of that work behind the scenes as a mentor to freshman point guard Brene Moseley.

“I think by far she’s one of the best point guards in the ACC, if not the nation in my opinion,” said Moseley, an All-Met from Paint Branch High. “How she leads this team, how she keeps us going, keeps us motivated, it’s top dollar. She’s taught me so much.”

Barrett gleaned much of her wisdom from watching Kristi Toliver, who was the starting point guard on Maryland’s national championship team in 2005-06. Toliver and Barrett overlapped during the 2008-09 season, when Barrett started two games and Maryland went 31-5 on the way to an NCAA tournament region final.

Toliver finished as the Terrapins’ career leader in assists and third overall in scoring. Toliver also owns three of Maryland’s top 10 single-season assists marks, including 170 when she and Barrett played together.

Barrett has 165 assists this season, so barring an unexpectedly abbreviated stay in the NCAA tournament, she has an opportunity to move into perhaps the top five in Maryland single-season assists.

Part of Barrett’s development also has included finding the balance between passing and scoring. Her first priority is to get the ball to teammates such as ACC player of the year Alyssa Thomas, but Barrett has little trepidation going to the basket when it’s within the flow of the offense.

She has scored in double figures 10 times this season, including a season-high 16 points in an overtime road win against then-No. 23 North Carolina. Barrett went 4 for 4 from the foul line in the final 1 minute 8 seconds of overtime, shot 5 for 10 and added nine assists and five rebounds, although she did commit eight of Maryland’s 22 turnovers.

Barrett has been more mindful recently, though, when it comes to taking care of the ball. She’s committed more than three turnovers just once in the last seven games, knowing full well ball security must be a top priority if Barrett is to finish her career in the Final Four in Denver.

“Somebody that’s been through a lot of ups and downs in her career, a lot of struggles, but just someone who overcame adversity,” Barrett said of how she wants to be remembered after she leaves College Park. “I would like to be seen as a good leader and somebody that was able to mentor people, especially with Brene next year. I just want to leave having that good feeling like I know she’s ready.”

Gene Wang is a sports reporter covering many local and national beats, including Navy football, the Capitals, Wizards, Nationals, women’s basketball, auto racing, boxing and golf. He joined The Washington Post sports department in 1990 as a member of the high school staff and worked as a copy editor and assignment editor for almost 19 years.
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