LOUISVILLE — While waiting for its name to be called during the NCAA tournament selection show several weeks ago, the Maryland women’s basketball team also kept a close eye on where the four No. 1 seeds were heading.
The Terrapins knew they probably would have to face one of those top seeds if they reached the Sweet 16, and while all of them present significant obstacles to advancing, the preference in College Park was to avoid Connecticut or Notre Dame, both undefeated, until at least the Final Four.
Maryland received that modest break when they learned Tennessee was the No. 1 seed in the Louisville Region. Not that the Terrapins are preparing for Sunday’s matchup against the eight-time national champion Lady Vols (29-5) with any less urgency, but the task doesn’t feel as daunting given three of Tennessee’s five losses this season came against opponents ranked lower than the Terrapins, who were 11th in the latest Associated Press poll.
“All the writers and everyone have said this is probably the most beatable Tennessee team,” Terrapins freshman point guard Lexie Brown said. “With the momentum we have, I think it’s going to be a pretty even matchup. I mean, it’s definitely going to be easier being the lower seed, the team that could potentially pull the upset.”
More often the bully during the regular season, Maryland is embracing its role as a spoiler in its third straight appearance in the region semifinals. The Terrapins are the third-lowest seed remaining in the Louisville Region. Louisville is a No. 3 seed, and LSU is a 7.
The Terrapins (26-6) have faced longer odds in each of their last two appearances in the Sweet 16. Last season, with an injury-depleted roster, they lost to Connecticut, 76-50, in Bridgeport, Conn., in what essentially was a home game for the Huskies, who went on to win their eighth national championship and seventh in the 2000s.
Two years ago, Maryland beat Texas A&M, 81-74, in the Sweet 16 in Raleigh, N.C., to dethrone the reigning national champions but then lost to Notre Dame, 80-49, in the region final. The Fighting Irish advanced to the national championship game and lost to Baylor, 80-61.
“I always like the underdog,” said reserve junior guard Laurin Mincy, who provided significant contributions in Maryland’s two NCAA tournament wins this season. “People don’t expect the underdog to do certain things. We’re kind of the sleeper team. We haven’t been talked about a lot in the media, so I think it’s just an edge for us.”
In the Terrapins’ 69-64 win over No. 5 seed Texas on Tuesday night at Comcast Center, Mincy scored eight of her 10 points early in the first half, including back-to-back three-pointers to help put Maryland in front when teammate and three-time ACC player of the year Alyssa Thomas was misfiring.
The senior forward who leads Maryland in scoring missed her first six shots before finishing with a game-high 16 points, all in the second half. Thomas and Mincy were among seven players who logged at least 12 minutes in that game, prompting Coach Brenda Frese to give the team two days off from practice this week.
Maryland has won six of its last seven games and 10 of 12 as it enters its sixth region semifinals in Frese’s 12 seasons in College Park. The Terrapins’ only two losses since the start of February were to Duke, which finished second in the ACC in the regular season, and North Carolina in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament.
Tennessee (29-5), meanwhile, has won nine in a row and 15 of 16. The Volunteers are coming off a 67-51 victory over St. John’s in the round of 32 after beating Northwestern State, 70-46, in the first round. Tennessee led its first-round game by only two points at intermission before overwhelming the Demons in the second half.
Maryland has not played Tennessee since 2005-06, when it lost, 80-75, in a holiday tournament in the Virgin Islands. The Terrapins went on to win their first and only national championship that season.
“As a competitor, players, coaches, we love it,” Frese said of playing one of the sport’s seminal programs. “This is what you would want. Obviously they’ve accomplished a lot, but we’re excited to be making another run to the Sweet 16 and throughout this tournament.”
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