NASHVILLE–Last year at this time, Lexie Brown, Brionna Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough had completed their high school basketball careers and were thinking ahead to what was in store for them as freshmen at Maryland. Thanks to major contributions from all three, the Terrapins now are among the last four teams remaining in the NCAA tournament.
Brown and Jones became starters this season, and Walker-Kimbrough is one of the first players off the bench. The trio comprises one of Coach Brenda Frese’s most highly regarded recruiting classes, and they have Maryland well positioned for the future, particularly considering its move to the Big Ten next season.
But first there’s much left to accomplish in the Terrapins’ first Final Four appearance since 2006, when it won the national championship.
“It is a great experience, not only as my first year, but being here with these girls,” said Walker-Kimbrough, who is third on the team in scoring. “It’s been a phenomenal experience, and we’re not done.”
Maryland, the No. 4 seed out of the Louisville Region, plays top-seeded Notre Dame, which won the South Bend Region, in Sunday’s first national semifinal. The winner faces Connecticut, the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament, or No. 2 seed Stanford.
The Terrapins lost to Notre Dame, 87-83, in the teams’ only meeting during the regular season. Brown had nine points, three assists and three turnovers in that game but since has been named to the ACC all-freshman team and become Maryland’s second-leading scorer.
Brown scored 20 points in Tuesday’s 76-73 victory over Louisville in the round of eight, finishing second only to senior forward Alyssa Thomas (22). She also made 9 of 10 free throws, including 5 of 6 in the closing minutes despite a boisterous crowd of 14,002 at KFC Yum! Center trying to distract her, to help secure the win.
“As a point guard, you have to keep your poise the entire game,” Brown said, “and at the beginning that was very tough for me to do, but as the season progressed, I met a lot with Coach B, and my teammates have really helped me with that. I think when you have your poise, really nothing can go wrong in the game because you’re there mentally.”
Jones, meanwhile, has not been able to contribute as much over the few games in part because of foul trouble. It’s an area of the game Jones said she is paying special attention to as she grows more comfortable becoming a featured presence in the low post. Jones was the Baltimore player of the year as junior before tearing her ACL as a senior.
“There’s so much thrown at you your freshman year,” Frese said. “Then for Lexie to be the starting point guard on a team that has three senior starters, five seniors on the team, that takes time for a freshman to get comfortable. But Lexie’s playing some of her best basketball right now, and it couldn’t come at a better time.”
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