Whenever Maryland sophomore guard Shyanne Sellers checked into the game Sunday, she would not simply walk down the Xfinity Center sideline and inform the official scorer of her intentions. No, she would dash. And she didn’t just touch the spot in front of where the man in a black-and-white referee’s shirt was seated. She would slap the padded table.
If her entry to second-seeded Maryland’s second-round matchup came under perilous circumstances, such as when No. 7 seed Arizona threatened near the end of the first half with an extended run, Sellers could be seen yelling words to herself that only she could hear under the din produced by visiting Wildcats fans. Then she turned that padded table into her personal punching bag.
In happier times, such as when the Terrapins had taken control after a dominant third quarter on their way to a 77-64 victory, Sellers would trot down the sideline beaming, then rhythmically beat the scorers’ table as if playing the bongos. However Sellers chose to announce her return to the floor, her presence was everything Maryland needed.
Sellers again will be in the starting lineup when the Terps face third-seeded Notre Dame in the Sweet 16, so the three E’s that Maryland harps about — energy, effort and execution — shouldn’t be a concern at the beginning. Problems might come, however, if Sellers draws too many fouls. When she did so against the Wildcats, she went to the bench and Maryland unraveled.
“Maybe we relaxed a little bit in that second quarter,” Coach Brenda Frese said. “Obviously the impact that Shy has and how important she is to us, that second foul impacted us greatly.”
Frese led with this observation during her postgame comments. Her two stars, Sellers and senior Diamond Miller, sat to her right. So without a trace of subtlety and knowing she had a captive audience, Frese threw in a message for Sellers.
“So she’s going to stay out of foul trouble here for the rest of the time,” she added.
Off the court, the bespectacled Sellers wears Gucci glasses. But her game looks even more fashionable when she’s rocking goggles as Maryland’s most versatile player — the one who tracks the opponent’s leading scorer and also can defend in the paint. She runs the point but also leaks out and finishes tricky layups with flair. And she was playing her game well against Arizona, opening the matchup by stuffing Arizona forward Esmery Martinez’s layup attempt, then nailing a jumper. Then she took a charge from Arizona’s Cate Reese.
“Setting the tone defensively is huge for us. It leads to our offense,” Sellers said. “... Just really setting the tone early lets you establish how you’re going to dictate the game — and you want to dictate and not be dictated.”
While Miller, a second-team all-American, tops the opponents’ scouting reports as Problem No. 1 when facing Maryland, Sellers should be No. 1A.
“She’s another tough matchup. She’s long. She’s athletic. She goes to the rim really hard. She pushes the ball in transition,” Arizona Coach Adia Barnes said.
Sellers finished Sunday with 15 points on an efficient 5-for-8 shooting, with five assists, five rebounds, two steals and two blocks. Those numbers merely scratch the surface of her impact. The Terrapins outscored Arizona by 25 points when she was on the floor. That brings to mind Maryland’s early February matchup with Ohio State, the No. 10 team in the nation at the time, when Sellers was plus-38 in a 90-54 blowout.
So, yes, Maryland reaches another level when Sellers is on the court and cooking. But against Arizona, Frese had to sit Sellers with 7:49 left in the second quarter after she collected her second foul. She might have stayed on the sideline for the rest of the half had the Terps remained in control. Instead, they went from leading by 10 to unraveling amid a 21-7 onslaught.
“I wasn’t mad about her getting another foul,” Barnes said. “I would have liked a couple more. [Getting] her out of the game is good.”
During Arizona’s run, in which Maryland allowed 10 straight points, Sellers watched her teammates struggle. But, really, she was watching Frese, trying to make eye contact and using her best convincing skills to get her coach to trust her again.
“I was really itching to get back on the floor. Every time ‘B’ walked past me, I was talking about: ‘I won’t foul! I won’t foul! I won’t foul! I won’t foul!’” Sellers said. “Trying to get back on the floor.”
Frese relented with 1:05 remaining until halftime. She called a timeout with the Terps trailing 33-29 and pointed toward her eager player. Sellers bounded down the sideline while almost screaming at herself as she reached the official scorer.
“Honestly, just staying disciplined,” Sellers said, revealing her inner dialogue that was spilling out.
She wasn’t just disciplined. She was a difference-maker. The first three possessions with her back on the court: Sellers passing to open teammate Faith Masonius for an assist on a jumper, Sellers creating a turnover by Arizona guard Shaina Pellington and Sellers drawing a two-shot foul. Through Arizona led 33-32 at halftime, that would soon change.
Far as anyone can tell, there’s no switch at Xfinity Center, one that the Terps can flip whenever they please to transform into a defensive hound and a steamroller on offense. But Miller went from shooting 2 for 9 for four points in the first half to being unstoppable in the second with a 20-point surge. The tension from earlier eased into something a bit more recognizable in this building: the Terps overwhelming their opponent and leaving with a win.
The final time Frese had to pull Sellers from the game, frustrated after committing her fourth foul, Sellers kept her eyes on the floor as Frese gave her an earful. But Sellers heard the message: She’s just too important for the Terps to leave the game with foul trouble.
“She has to understand how much we need her on the court, so that’s not the time to go for a block and put yourself in any kind of position, whether it was right call, wrong call. It doesn’t matter. It’s putting her on the bench, which hurts our team,” Frese said. “You can coach her hard — that’s why she’s grown to be the player that she is for us. [A] teachable moment for her to be able to learn and grow from it.”