Any game against Duke is enough to elevate emotions for the members of the eighth-ranked Maryland women’s basketball team. But given how badly the Terrapins lost to their bitter rival several weeks ago and a handful of provocative tweets recently from Duke Coach Joanne P. McCallie, Sunday’s showdown at Comcast Center should have another layer of animosity.
Maryland’s players remember vividly what transpired at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Feb. 11. Led by junior guard Chelsea Gray’s career-high 28 points, the fifth-ranked Blue Devils pulled away for a 71-56 victory in which Terrapins Coach Brenda Frese was ejected for the first time in her career.
Five days later, the Terrapins (22-4, 13-2 ACC) watched their male counterparts upset then-No. 2 Duke, 83-81, and soon after began getting word of tweets McCallie posted during and after the game.
“What would all these venues do without Duke basketball?” began one tweet that subsequently was deleted. “Sell fewer tickets, have less to dream about, & just melt away into oblivion. Go Duke.”
Another tweet from McCallie read: “Top dog vs underdog. Take the top dog status any day. Got to bring home a national title or a few to truly be top dog. It’s concrete. #Real”
Maryland won a national championship in women’s basketball in 2005-06 by beating Duke in the NCAA title game. The Blue Devils (25-1, 15-0) have never won a national title in women’s basketball, although this season they are unbeaten in the ACC and seeking a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
“People talk,” Terrapins junior forward Alyssa Thomas said. “There’s nothing you can say about that. Just people talk.”
Thomas, the ACC’s leading rebounder who is also second in points and assists, is the reigning conference player of the year and was in direct competition with Gray to win the award again. Gray may have moved ahead given her performance against Maryland, but the ACC’s leader in assists per game (5.4) dislocated her kneecap against Wake Forest last Sunday — one day after McCallie’s tweets — and is out indefinitely.
Thomas and senior forward Tianna Hawkins, the ACC’s leading scorer and second-leading rebounder, combined to miss 23 of 30 shots and had eight of Maryland’s 24 turnovers in the first game against the Blue Devils. The Terrapins also attempted half as many foul shots in a rugged affair that had Frese displeased with the officiating especially down the stretch, causing her to draw a double technical that resulted in her dismissal with less than four minutes to play and Maryland trailing, 59-50.
“We really want this one,” said Terrapins freshman guard Chloe Pavlech, whose inaugural game against Duke included a season-high nine turnovers. “We’re very hungry for it. The last time we lost at Cameron, it was pretty crazy, and we talk about Coach Frese, her passion for us, and really we want to play this game for her.”
Also at stake is any opportunity for Maryland to win the regular season ACC title. The Terrapins trail Duke by two games, but without Gray, it’s unclear if the Blue Devils will be able to win out to secure the top seed in the ACC tournament.
Maryland is assured of a bye in the first round of the tournament that begins March 7 in Greensboro, N.C. With a regular rotation of eight players and only nine on the active roster because of injuries to two starters and a reserve, the Terrapins have become accustomed to working with depleted numbers but probably would be hard-pressed to withstand four games in as many days as they try to repeat as ACC tournament champions.
“I tend to tune out negativity,” Frese said, “so I haven’t really given any thoughts to those tweets. I think what I focus on is just our team and our program and making us as good as we can.”