LINCOLN, Neb. — It was 16 years ago this month that Brenda Frese paused at a stop sign to take a call from Debbie Yow, Maryland’s athletic director at the time, in the wake of a blowout loss at Duke. Frese answered with trepidation, fearing a telling-off from her boss, but instead received words of wisdom.
“I picked up the phone, and [Yow] said, ‘Last night was tough,’ ” Frese recalled. “‘There will come a day where we are going to beat them, and you just have to know. They had their turn. Your time is coming.’”
Maryland’s time arrived three years after that phone call, when the Terps won the 2006 national title, and Frese has been charging steadily onward ever since. On Tuesday, Maryland’s 17th-year head coach notched her 500th career win with an 81-63 victory at Nebraska.
The ninth-ranked Terps (14-1, 3-1 Big Ten) effectively sealed the outcome with a 12-2 run late in the third quarter, and the Cornhuskers (7-8, 2-2) couldn’t get within 10 points of the lead in the final seven minutes.
When the clock finally ran out, Frese stalked off the court as if Tuesday were any routine victory. The celebrating, hugs, postgame speech and silly string — lots and lots of silly string — were to be saved for the visitors’ locker room, which was just big enough to fit the people who mattered most.
“You don’t get to 500 wins without great people. . . . You guys make it rewarding every single day,” Frese, 48, said in the locker room, which had been decorated in black and red streamers. After Frese’s black pumps and black suit were thoroughly coated in pink and blue goo, her team crowded around for a group hug that was only broken when her parents stepped through to give their daughter a kiss.
Everyone in the group, including Frese’s high school basketball coach, Paul James, who first encouraged her to join the profession, gathered to watch a lengthy video compilation of Frese’s former players, fellow coaches, television analysts and family members congratulate her on the milestone. Maryland Athletic Director Damon Evans thanked her for building an exemplary program. Under Armour CEO and Maryland graduate Kevin Plank sent well wishes. ESPN’s Holly Rowe nodded to Frese’s success as a working mother.
“That makes me feel old,” Frese joked after.
“I haven’t made a basket. I haven’t got a stop on defense,” Frese said later. “It comes down to the tremendous players and the tremendous staff members that we’ve been able to put together consistently over time, and I think that’s what that number speaks to, is the people that have come together for a single purpose, and that’s winning.”
With a career winning percentage of .769 (500-150), one national championship and nine conference titles at Maryland, Frese has become a model of consistency in the women’s game in her 20 years as a head coach at three schools.
Her bread and butter is recruiting, and the Terps flaunted their talent Tuesday night at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Kaila Charles (19 points), Taylor Mikesell (16) and Stephanie Jones (13) continued to lead Maryland as they have all throughout conference play thus far. Blair Watson added 12 points, and both Watson and Mikesell had four three-pointers each.
On the defensive end, Frese called it one of the Terps’ most complete performances of the season. Maryland held Nebraska without a single scorer in double digits for the first time this season.
Hannah Whitish and Nicea Eliely had nine points each for the Cornhuskers, and Kate Cain had a team-high 10 rebounds. Maryland is 10-0 against Nebraska.
While it was a physical first half of basketball — Nebraska has one of the taller rosters the Terps have faced — Maryland fell into more of an offensive rhythm once Mikesell found a way to get open beyond the arc in the first quarter. The Terps were out-rebounded 38-37, and though they never trailed they had nine first-half turnovers that kept them from opening more of a gap early.
It was Charles who sparked the run early in the third quarter that effectively secured the win.
“It’s a great experience to be a part of. She’s just a great coach on and off the court,” Charles said of Frese in a postgame news conference. “Knowing that she’s built a standard, and a great program at Maryland, I’m glad and blessed to be a part of it and just learn from the best.”
Frese rested her chin in her hand and wore a smile as her players spoke. Watson had just one remaining wish at the end of the night.
“I just hope to be a part of the 1,000th-win video,” Watson said.