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Maryland set to head into NCAA women’s basketball tournament motivated by a loss

Maryland lost its fourth game of the season in the Big Ten tournament championship game against Iowa. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

For just the second time since Maryland joined the Big Ten Conference five years ago, Coach Brenda Frese’s women’s basketball team will enter the postseason motivated by memories of a bad loss.

The last time the Terps were on the court, against Iowa in the Big Ten tournament championship game last Sunday in Indianapolis, they ended the day in a morose locker room as the Hawkeyes celebrated their first league tournament title since 2001. Maryland’s second straight loss in the Big Ten tournament title game was a frustrating, foul-filled affair that left a bitter taste in the Terps’ mouths.

A win in the first round of the NCAA tournament would be the perfect palate cleanser. Maryland (28-4) is projected to receive a No. 3 seed when the field of 64 is revealed at 7 p.m. Monday on ESPN.

“I could see it when they walked off the court in the locker room: This team hates to lose,” Frese said after the loss to Iowa. “We’re excited for what lies ahead. This is not a bad loss. We got beat by a great team, and Selection Monday, we get to hear our name and what our seed will be and more importantly what our bracket is. For us, it’s only our fourth loss. It’s being able to take the lessons that we’ve learned from all four of those losses and being ready for our last tournament.”

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A top-four seed means the Terps would return to hosting the first two rounds of the tournament in College Park after they had to bus to Raleigh, N.C. for the opening rounds last year, when Maryland was a No. 5 seed. This will mark Frese’s ninth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.

ESPN analyst Charlie Creme has projected Maryland in the Chicago Region for some time, which could put the Terps in the same quarter of the bracket as projected No. 1 seed Notre Dame, the defending national champion, and projected No. 2 seed Stanford.

As for the other projected No. 1 seeds, Connecticut is expected to receive its 13th consecutive No. 1 seed in the Albany Region, Baylor could head to Greensboro, N.C., and Mississippi State may be slated for Portland, Ore.

The three teams that beat Maryland this season — Rutgers, Michigan State and Iowa — are expected to make the NCAA tournament, with the Hawkeyes slated as the second seed in Greensboro. And though Frese is hoping her team has learned from its four losses, the Terps didn’t leave Indianapolis with the feeling that they have significant holes to patch over.

“Especially after this loss, it’s just going to give us motivation in practice going forward,” said Kaila Charles, the team’s leading scorer at 16.9 points. “We’re excited for the NCAA tournament; I think we have a really well-rounded team with so many weapons. I’m excited to see how far we can get. I think we’re all committed and ready to play again, get a win back.”

Maryland and Radford (the Big South tournament champion at 26-6) could be the only teams representing the D.C. region in this year’s field.

After four teams from the area make the field of 64 last season, only Virginia Tech and James Madison, neither of which made the NCAA tournament last year, has something of a chance to join the Terps.

The Hokies (20-11) sit on the edge of the bubble after a second-round loss in the ACC tournament to Clemson. A win in the ACC/Big Ten challenge over Rutgers as well as a victory over ranked Miami fortifies their case, but the Hokies finished 10th in a punishing conference that features six ranked teams.

James Madison (25-5) won the Colonial Athletic Association regular season title and entered the weekend ranked 36th in the Rating Percentage Index. But the Dukes suffered a damaging loss in the conference tournament when they were upset by Hofstra, which tied for last in the CAA with a 3-15 league record and finished 11-22 overall.

The Hokies’ conference rival, Virginia, went 12-19 in its first year under WNBA great Tina Thompson.

American (22-10) lost to Bucknell in the Patriot League final on Sunday, and George Washington won’t crack the field, either. The Colonials (10-20) posted their worst record since the 2010-11 season this year, a particularly tough campaign after they captured their third Atlantic 10 tournament title in four seasons in 2018.