The 11th-ranked Maryland women’s basketball team had just completed practice Friday afternoon at Comcast Center when word of a major NCAA men’s tournament upset began to spread.
Several players still on the court watched on their cellphones as the final minutes wound down in third-seeded Duke’s 78-71 loss to Mercer, a No. 14 seed, in the round of 64. And although there was some satisfaction in seeing the school’s archrival bow out so early, it also reminded the Terrapins of the consequences of peeking too far ahead.
“If you overlook any opponent, that’s how you get knocked out,” senior forward Alyssa Thomas said. “It’s all about one game, and then we’ll focus on who we get next.”
Making its fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament and 10th in 12 seasons under Coach Brenda Frese, fourth-seeded Maryland will face No. 13 seed Army in the round of 64 of the Louisville Region on Sunday afternoon in College Park. It will be the first meeting between the schools and the second NCAA tournament appearance for the Black Knights, who earned an automatic berth by winning the Patriot League tournament title.
Maryland (24-6) hasn’t played since a 73-70 loss to North Carolina in the ACC tournament quarterfinals March 7 in Greensboro, N.C. The Terrapins trailed by 11 at halftime and were unable to recover in losing their opening game of the ACC tournament for the first time since 2010-11.
The Terrapins closed the regular season by winning eight of nine, including their last four. Maryland’s only loss over that stretch came to Duke, which advanced to the ACC tournament final and is the No. 2 seed in the Lincoln Region.
“We can’t come out like we came out when we played Carolina,” said starting point guard Lexie Brown, who was named to the ACC all-freshman team. “We kind of just have to go and punch every team in the mouth first before they punch us in the mouth, really.”
It’s also the final NCAA tournament for a senior class that has gone 6-3 in three appearances, advancing to the region final in 2011-12 after beating then-defending NCAA champion Texas A&M in the round of 16.
Last season, Maryland advanced to the region semifinals, where it lost to eventual national champion Connecticut, 70-56.
“When my mind goes there, I have to try to shift it and obviously not get sad but be happy with four incredible years,” Frese said of her five seniors. “Their careers and Alyssa’s have gone by way too fast. That’s something you always preach to your team, just how quickly four years truly does go by.”
Thomas became Maryland’s all-time scoring leader this season, passing Crystal Langhorne with a game-high 24 points in the loss to the Tar Heels. Thomas, the three-time ACC player of the year who already has her name and number hanging from rafters at Comcast Center, needs 52 rebounds to pass Langhorne for first all time at Maryland in that category.
Thomas also became one of six players in NCAA history with at least six triple-doubles in her career. The two-time all-American has four this season, most recently with 22 points, 12 rebounds and a career-high 12 assists Feb. 20 during an 87-77 victory over Florida State. Her 24 double-doubles lead the ACC this season, and her 62 career double-doubles are the most in program history.
In last season’s NCAA tournament, Thomas averaged 23.3 points and 8.3 rebounds over three games. In the first two rounds, she shot a combined 24 for 41 (59 percent).
Army (25-7), meanwhile, leans heavily on two-time Patriot League player of the year Kelsey Minato, who led the conference in scoring at 21.8 points per game. The sophomore scored 31 points in the Black Knights’ 68-58 win over Holy Cross in the Patriot League tournament championship game March 15 in West Point, N.Y.
The Black Knights, who finished second in the Patriot League in the regular season, have won seven in a row, eight of nine and 13 of 15.
“What’s really sort of neat I think is you’re going to have two players on the floor that have been player of the year five times combined,” Army Coach Dave Magarity said. “Kelsey’s going to be very much a marked player, and I’m sure they’ll do something different defensively on her than we’ve seen. I anticipate them really trying to take her out of the game as much as they can.”