The 11th-ranked Maryland women’s basketball team had the luxury of playing at home for the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. Now the fourth seed in the Louisville Region is bracing for what figures to be perhaps the most hostile environment it has encountered this season when the Terrapins face No. 3 seed Louisville on its home court Tuesday night for a spot in the Final Four.
Ticket sales have been brisk, according to NCAA officials, and the crowd will be decidedly in favor of the Cardinals, who are seeking their third appearance in the Final Four since Coach Jeff Walz took over the program in 2007-08. Maryland, meantime, is aiming for its first berth in the Final Four since winning the national championship in 2005-06, when Walz was Coach Brenda Frese’s top assistant.
“I’m just going to visualize the sea of red is for Maryland, that they’re screaming for Maryland,” Frese said. “I’m going to embrace the moment. So is our team. I mean we’ve worked hard, just as Louisville has. This what you talk about, star power, depth, two evenly matched teams. It’s made for TV, two coaches that have worked together, and you’ve got all the drama and all the excitement.”
While playing at home provides a significant advantage, Walz pointed out there are also distractions attached to hosting. His players, for instance, must balance practice and film sessions with family obligations and securing tickets for relatives and friends. In an attempt to keep the schedule as routine as possible, Walz is having his players stay in their dorm rooms rather than a hotel.
Louisville is 17-1 at KFC Yum! Center this season. Its only home loss was to Connecticut, which is the top overall seed in the tournament and one of two undefeated teams in the country.
Maryland is coming off a 73-62 victory over No. 1 seed Tennessee in a game in which it led nearly wire-to-wire. Alyssa Thomas scored a career-high 33 points and added 13 rebounds to push the Terrapins to their second region final in three seasons. In 2011-12, Maryland beat then-reigning national champion Texas A&M, 81-74, to advance to the region finals in Raleigh.
“Their fans are great, very loud,” Thomas said of Louisville. “We’re definitely expecting it tomorrow and looking forward to it.”