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Maryland women’s basketball: Guard play will be crucial to the Terrapins

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Last season, the Maryland women’s basketball team flourished by overpowering opponents with one of the most formidable front courts in the ACC, if not the country. With 6-foot-4 Lynetta Kizer, 6-3 Tianna Hawkins and 6-2 Alyssa Thomas leading the way, the Terrapins finished fifth in the country in rebounding margin and outrebounded teams in 28 of 32 games.

That entire cast is back — although Kizer has been suspended indefinitely for violating team rules — and with reinforcements such as 6-4 Alicia DeVaughn coming off the bench, No. 11 Maryland again is well equipped to play meaningful basketball close to the rim.

Yet the emphasis on rugged play carried the Terrapins only so far. Such was the case in a 79-57 loss to Georgetown in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Hoyas pressed relentlessly, and Maryland never was able to withstand the pace in front of a stunned home crowd at Comcast Center. The back court was especially overwhelmed, combining for 12 of the Terrapins’ 20 turnovers.

So it’s no wonder Coach Brenda Frese is demanding more from her guards this season, making it abundantly clear the Terrapins’ fortunes rest largely with them. It’s their charge not only to get the ball to the right spots around the low block but also to manage the pace of the game, limit turnovers and keep the offense balanced by making outside shots consistently.

“We feel like we have a lot of depth inside with what our post play is able to give us, but our guard play at times last year, we struggled in terms of shooting the basketball from the perimeter,” said Frese, whose 2006 national championship team included the stabilizing back court of Shay Doron and Kristi Toliver. “So I do feel like our guard play is going to carry us in terms of how far we go this season.”

The most responsibility lies with the point guards, beginning with Anjale Barrett. The senior started all but one game last season and finished first on the team in assists and fifth in points among returning players. But Barrett also led Maryland in turnovers, including five against Georgetown.

Dara Taylor and Natasha Cloud were second and third on the team in assists last season, but they transferred, so freshman Brene Moseley is on track to receive more playing time than perhaps originally forecasted. The Burtonsville native was a first-team All-Met as a junior at Paint Branch after leading the Washington area in scoring at 26.2 points per game.

Moseley, however, spent her senior season recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament that required surgery. The lengthy layoff from basketball put her understandably behind schedule, but Barrett has been providing constant instruction to her understudy, whose nose for the basket was particularly attractive to Frese.

“I’ve got Anje ahead of me, and she’s a great leader,” said Moseley, who scored 16 points on 7-for-12 shooting in a 94-36 preseason win over Holy Family last Friday. “To follow in her footsteps, she helps me out a lot. My teammates and the coaching staff are working at bringing me along, and they’re helping me as much as they possibly can and making me get in extra work and do extra things to learn the offense and be able to execute it.”

Maryland will have one of the youngest back courts in the country when Moseley and sophomore Laurin Mincy are on the floor together. Mincy also is plenty familiar with the rehabilitation process from a torn ACL, which she suffered the summer before her senior year in high school.

It wasn’t until late last season that Mincy appeared back to full strength and comfortable with her shot. She Mincy excelled during the postseason, averaging 8.3 points and shooting 44 percent over one game in the ACC tournament and two in the NCAA tournament.

Mincy provides Maryland with one of its most dynamic scoring threats, able to get deep into the lane, pull up for a mid-range jumper or step back beyond the three-point line. She was first among Terrapins guards in foul shooting as well, so Frese is pushing Mincy to get to the line with greater frequency.

Mincy took that directive to heart in Maryland’s first preseason game on Nov. 1, going 6 for 6 from the free throw line and scoring a game-high 17 points in an 82-36 victory over Messiah.

The preferred option from the outside, though, is senior Kim Rodgers, who last season made a three-pointer as time expired to topple then-No. 24 Georgia Tech, 56-53, for one of Maryland’s most uplifting victories. Rodgers led the Terrapins in three-pointers last season.

“I think people understand what we’re capable of,” Rodgers said. “Obviously our bigs do a phenomenal job in rebounding, so that credit is well deserved, and then you have people like Alyssa that get in there and crash. Everybody gets the credit they deserve for the things that they do, and we all know our roles. As long as this team is winning, it doesn’t really matter what everybody else thinks.”

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