Laurin Mincy’s final practice in College Park as a member of the Maryland women’s basketball team took place at Xfinity Center’s auxiliary gym rather than the main court. Not exactly an ideal way for the redshirt senior to bid farewell to the arena where she spent five seasons forging a career notable for perseverance and revival.
A high school robotics convention had forced the Final Four-bound Terrapins to their secondary practice facility Thursday afternoon, but for Mincy, the minor inconvenience wasn’t about to spoil another opportunity to be with her teammates.
Two tears of her anterior cruciate ligaments — one in her right knee as a junior in college and the other in her left knee, suffered in high school — left Mincy with a keener appreciation for what had been routine. On this afternoon, at the team’s final workout before leaving for the national semifinals in Tampa, even the sprints were somewhat exhilarating and the drills far less tedious.
“I’m definitely taking it all in,” said Mincy, who is the only senior on a roster that includes seven freshmen and sophomores. “Just a breath of fresh air. A couple years ago at this time I couldn’t even walk.”
Since then she’s worked her way back into the starting lineup, again become the team’s most dependable on-ball defender and is heading to the Final Four for a second straight season.
Maryland (34-2), the No. 1 seed out of the Spokane Region, will face Connecticut (36-1) Sunday night at Tampa’s Amalie Arena. The top-ranked Huskies, the top seed in the Albany Region are a prohibitive favorite to claim their third consecutive national title and NCAA-record 10th overall, which would move Geno Auriemma into a tie with John Wooden for most all-time among men’s or women’s coaches.
Notre Dame and South Carolina, both No. 1 seeds as well, will play in the other national semifinal earlier Sunday evening. The Fighting Irish are making their fifth straight appearance in the Final Four and the Gamecocks their first.
The Terrapins, meanwhile, earned their third Final Four berth under Coach Brenda Frese having won a school-record 28 consecutive games, going unbeaten in the Big Ten in the regular season and adding the conference tournament title. Still, oddmakers have installed Connecticut as a favorite of nearly 24 points.
The Huskies have won all three meetings with Maryland, including 70-56 two years ago in the regional semifinals with Mincy watching on television.
“It’s just numbers,” Terrapins sophomore point guard Lexie Brown said while facing a cluster of television cameras and microphones. “You can’t control that. If you pay attention to that, then you’ve already lost the game.”
The robust media attention Thursday afternoon came on the heels of Maryland’s second consecutive victory over Tennessee in the NCAA tournament. The Terrapins beat the eight-time national champions in the region semifinals, 58-48, one year to the day after eliminating Tennessee in the round of 16. The Lady Vols are second only to Connecticut for most national championships.
There also was plenty of support from students, athletic department officials, administrators and friends of the program for a sendoff from the loading dock of Xfinity Center. Maryland’s band belted out a rousing rendition of the school fight song as players and the coaching staff began filing out of the arena and onto the team bus bound for BWI airport.
From there Maryland boarded a charter flight to Tampa for the team’s first trip to Florida since playing at Miami last season when the Terrapins were in their final go-around as part of the ACC. Maryland was scheduled to take part in a welcome reception shortly after landing, and the first practice in Tampa is set for 2:30 Friday afternoon at a location to be determined.
The Terrapins’ first chance to become familiar with Amalie Arena will be Saturday afternoon during a practice from 2:50 to 3:50.
“I think I appreciated it more last year because we worked so hard just to get there,” redshirt junior guard Brene Moseley said. “I feel now we don’t have the mentality. Now we’re a step further where we want to win it. We’re not happy just to be there. Next step is for us to win everything.”