March for any hoops fan means March Madness — the NCAA basketball tournaments. Notice I said tournaments. While the men’s tournament gets most of the attention, don’t forget the women’s tournament.
That’s especially true this season, because the University of Maryland women’s team has a real chance to go to the Final Four and maybe win it all. The Terps have all the elements of a team that could make a long run.
First, Maryland has a terrific head coach. Brenda Frese won a national championship in 2006 and led two other teams to the Final Four in 2014 and 2015. Frese knows how to get it done in March.
The Terps also have solid senior leadership. Kaila Charles, Blair Watson and Stephanie Jones are four-year players who combined have played — and played well — in hundreds of big-time college games. This senior trio is not likely to wilt under the hot lights of NCAA tournament pressure.
Maryland has a talented underclass, too. Six-foot-five-inch sophomore forward Shakira Austin can be a force under the basket. Ashley Owusu shook off a midseason slump to be named the Big Ten freshman of the year. In addition, freshman guard Diamond Miller was playing her best basketball near the end of the regular season.
But the key to the Terps’ championship chances may be sophomore guard Taylor Mikesell. She is the team’s best three-point shooter, hitting more than 40 percent of her long shots this season. When Mikesell is hot from the outside, the Terps can play with anybody.
If Mikesell doesn’t shoot well, it won’t be because she doesn’t practice. Mikesell’s normal practice routine requires her to make 500(!) shots on game days and 1,000(!!) shots on days when the Terps don’t play.
Think about those numbers the next time you think you want to play college sports. Every college athlete has to know how to work hard. In fact, Mikesell works so hard that Frese cut her practice shooting to save some of her energy for the games.
Finally, Maryland is red hot. The Terps have won 17 straight games on their way to the Big Ten regular season and tournament championships.
But winning an NCAA championship is never easy. First, a team has to win six games against good teams. The first two games will be played at Maryland, so that should give the Terps an early advantage.
Second, the NCAA tournament is loaded with top teams. A few years ago, women’s college basketball was the University of Connecticut and everyone else. Connecticut is still very good, but now South Carolina, defending champ Baylor, Oregon, as well as a half-dozen other teams, have a legitimate chance to win it all.
And that includes Maryland.