By Kathy Orton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 29, 2008
SPOKANE, Wash., March 28 -- Their names don't appear on any postseason awards lists. They aren't regularly mentioned on television or in print. No opposing team is going to focus its scouting report on them. Yet guard Ashleigh Newman and forward Jade Perry are as much a reason why Maryland is in the NCAA tournament region semifinals as any of the Terrapins' better-known players.
"Jade and Ashleigh are unsung heroes," Maryland Coach Brenda Frese said. "A big reason why we are here today is just their play in our last game against Nebraska, the energy and the spark they provide."
When top-seeded Maryland (32-3) takes on No. 4 seed Vanderbilt (25-8) on Saturday night at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena, the Terrapins will be counting on Newman and Perry to do all the little things that make such a big difference in games of this magnitude.
Every team needs players who understand their roles, who don't try to do more than what is expected of them. And few players have as good an understanding of what they need to do to help their team win as Newman and Perry.
Take Maryland's second-round game against Nebraska. Usually Perry is the muscle the Terrapins send in to wear down the opponent's post players. But with Maryland all-American Crystal Langhorne on the bench in foul trouble, Perry added some much-needed offense. She scored eight points on 4-of-4 shooting and also blocked two shots. The 5-foot-10 Newman was menacing defensively as usual, grabbing a season-high seven rebounds.
"A lot of times, we struggle with our defense, and when [Newman] comes in, it picks up immediately," teammate Marissa Coleman said. "She gives us a defensive presence that not too many people on our team can do. Jade, she comes in and gives us great minutes. She's very strong. She may be undersized, but she's so strong."
After coming to Maryland as a scorer, Newman realized the Terrapins had plenty of players who can put the ball in the basket but few interested in playing defense. She decided to make that her specialty and transformed herself into defensive stopper.
"It started in the beginning of my sophomore year," she said. "I buckled down and really started to focus on playing defense. This is something that I can to really help this team. That's the way I approached it. . . . Now that it's tournament time, I've definitely tried to step that up even more."
Newman is the Brett Favre of Maryland. No player has played more games in a Terrapins uniform, and no player has given the team trainer more work than her. Newman holds the school record for consecutive games played at 139, despite battling an assortment of injuries. She's playing in the tournament with a heavily bandaged thumb that she injured in practice, the latest in a long list of ailments. She has lost track of how many times she has had to be patched together in order to play.
"I couldn't even count," she said with a laugh. "It's hard to believe that I've still played in all the games. If I can go, I'm going to go regardless. No matter how bad I'm in pain, I want to be out there with my team and helping my team as much as possible. They all joke with me and say I'm the most injury-prone, which is definitely true. Before I came to college, I never had any injuries. I think I've made up for it these four years. I like that I was able to push through and show my grit."
Perry has been nearly as reliable as Newman for Maryland, missing just two games in her four-year career. She too came in as a scorer but quickly developed into one of the Terrapins' better defenders underneath the basket. With her size, strength and agile footwork, she creates problems for opposing scorers. Lately, though, she has begun to shoot the ball with confidence, giving Maryland another scoring option.
"A few of my teammates and Coach B told me to shoot the ball more," Perry said. "I have a pretty good shot. . . . I just keep thinking: I've got four games left, so I just want to go out and try to contribute as much as possible."