For the first time in more than a decade, Maryland will not open an NCAA tournament appearance at home in College Park. But that didn’t stop Coach Brenda Frese and her players from leaping out of their seats with joy at the team’s selection show watch party in a suite above Xfinity Center on Monday.
The selection committee placed the Terrapins as the No. 5 seed in the Kansas City region when it unveiled the field of 64 on Monday, meaning Maryland (25-7) will play No. 12 seed Princeton (24-5) on Friday at noon in Raleigh, N.C. Frese said she is excited to return to a site she knows well from Maryland’s days in the ACC. The team is looking forward to starting its postseason getting to bond on a road trip.
“Of course we’d love to be at home,” Frese said before the bracket was announced, “but if we go on the road — last I checked you still had to show up and beat Maryland.”
Said senior Kristen Confroy: “I think when we go on the road, and everyone’s against you, our team comes together. This young team comes together.”
The last time the Terps didn’t open the NCAA tournament at home in College Park was in 2007 as a No. 2 seed, when they fell to No. 7 seed Mississippi in the second round. The last year they weren’t a top-four seed — not including the year they missed the tournament altogether in 2010 — is even farther back, in 2005, the year before Maryland won its only national championship.
Even so, the Terps were nothing less than ecstatic to finally hear their name called in the final region revealed during Monday’s selection show. This is the eighth straight NCAA tournament appearance for Maryland and the 26th overall, though it is the first time the program has been a No. 5 seed.
“I love it,” Frese said. “I really like our bracket, our matchups, where we’re headed, finally, to have it revealed. Now let’s go play.”
The Terps have only met Princeton once in the NCAA tournament, in 2015, when they beat the Tigers, 85-70, in the second round in College Park.
This time around, Princeton’s leading scorer is former first-team All-Met Bella Alarie out of National Cathedral, a 6-foot-4 sophomore swing player who leads the Tigers with 13.3 points per game and 9.6 rebounds per game and has 75 blocks on the season.
She is the daughter of former Washington Bullets forward Mark Alarie. Freshman Abby Meyers, another former All-Met from Whitman High, is another key contributor for the Tigers.
Should Maryland advance past Princeton, the winner of the matchup between No. 4 seed North Carolina State and No. 13 seed Elon awaits. Should they proceed to the region semifinals in Kansas City, Mo., the Terps would likely have to go through No. 1 seed Mississippi State (32-1) — the team that shocked Connecticut and ended the Huskies’ record-setting 111-game win streak last year in the Final Four.
No. 2 seed Texas (26-6) and No. 3 seed UCLA (24-7) loom further down the line as possible region final opponents.
The other top seeds besides Mississippi State are 11-time national champion Connecticut (32-0) in the Albany region; Notre Dame (29-3) in the Spokane region; and Louisville (32-2) in the Lexington Region. The Cardinals were national championship runners-up in 2009 and 2013. The Fighting Irish, which won the national title in 2001, have played in five of the past seven Final Fours.
Maryland wasn’t the only team from the Washington area hosting a watch party Monday — Virginia, George Washington and American are also headed to the Big Dance.
Patriot League champion American (26-6) joins Maryland in the Kansas City region as a No. 14 seed and will head to Los Angeles to play No. 3 seed UCLA on Saturday.
George Washington (19-13) is also a No. 14 seed and drew a first-round matchup against third-seeded Ohio State (27-6) on the Buckeyes’ home court in Columbus — which also happens to be the site of this year’s Final Four — on Saturday afternoon in the Spokane region.
This is the Atlantic 10 champion Colonials’ first tournament appearance under second-year Coach Jennifer Rizzotti, who was the starting point guard for the first national championship team at Connecticut.
“I knew whatever opponent we were going to face was going to be a good one, likely with an all-American-caliber player, and Kelsey Mitchell’s been one of the best, and not just this season but in her career,” Rizzotti said of Ohio State’s standout guard. “[It’s] exciting to be able just to have this week to prepare to play in the NCAA tournament. I think it’s an honor for any one of the 64 teams.”
No. 10 seed Virginia (18-13) also returns to the NCAA tournament this year, for the first time since 2010. The Cavaliers narrowly missed the field of 64 last year but beefed up its nonconference schedule and racked up 10 conference wins, and now Coach Joanne Boyle will lead Virginia against No. 7 seed California (21-10) — where Boyle was head coach from 2005 to 2011 — in Columbia, S.C., on Friday in the Albany region.
“Last year just being that last team that was out, it was a gut punch,” Boyle said at the watch party in Charlottesville. “We went back to the drawing board, looked a little bit at what we could’ve done better. … It’s great. It’s not for me. It’s always about the team and the work that they’ve put in. I’ve been to the tournament. I’ve been fortunate enough to be there with other teams. So the goal, in this program, is let’s get this program back to where it used to be.”
Gene Wang contributed to this report.
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