Disappointment and disbelief didn’t last long this week for the Maryland women’s basketball team. Less than 24 hours after learning they were the No. 3 seed in the Bridgeport Region, where behemoth Connecticut (32-0) is the No. 1 overall, the Terrapins got back to work.
The sooner they began preparations for their next opponent, Coach Brenda Frese figured, the less time the Terrapins would have to stew over a seed they considered an affront to their 30-2 record and a top five ranking for the vast majority of the season.
The three-time reigning Big Ten regular season and tournament champions enter the NCAA tournament as the only Power Five program with two losses or fewer not seeded among the top eight overall.
“I don’t see why we would have to be put in this situation, but I like being in this situation because it gives something to motivate us, gives us some extra push,” said freshman guard Kaila Charles, who has started every game this season. “Since we have that chip on our shoulder, it makes us want to play harder, work hard to prove people wrong.
“So it’s going to help us play our best game.”
The journey begins today at noon at Xfinity Center against No. 14 seed Bucknell, an automatic qualifier for the NCAA tournament after beating Navy, 79-71, in overtime to win the Patriot League tournament title.
The Bison (27-5) have won 11 consecutive games and faced two Power Five opponents this season; they lost to North Carolina, 65-50, and Rutgers, 57-53.
“Am I shocked to see them as a three seed? Absolutely,” Bucknell Coach Aaron Roussell said of the Terrapins. “It kind of makes us more a 15, 16 seed on our end of it. I know the [selection] committee watched a lot of games, 1,200 games. I’m still trying to find the one that makes them the three seed.”
Maryland is set to play a first-round game against the Patriot League tournament champion for the third time in six seasons. In 2012, the Terrapins defeated Navy, 59-44. Two years later, they beat Army, 90-52. Both of those games took place in College Park, where the Terrapins are 21-4 all-time in the NCAA tournament.
They also are 15-3 in the NCAA tournament at Xfinity Center, with one of those losses coming last season to seventh-seeded Washington, 74-65 , in the second round. The early exit was especially alarming given that the Terrapins were a No. 2 seed and coming off their second consecutive appearance in the Final Four.
To get that far this time, Maryland has the most difficult path of any No. 3 seed in the field. Its second-round opponent likely will be No. 6 seed West Virginia (23-10), which upset second-ranked Baylor, 77-66, in the Big 12 tournament championship game . The Lady Bears wound up as the No. 1 seed in the Oklahoma City Region.
“I think it’s just important to keep in mind you can control only what you can control, and I think we’ve been doing that all season,” said senior center Brionna Jones, named most outstanding player in the Big Ten tournament. “We went out and met our goals we set for us, so I think just continuing to work hard and doing what we’ve done to get this far is going to push us and motivate us moving forward.”
The Terrapins’ region semifinal opponent could be Duke, the No. 2 seed in the Bridgeport Region after it lost to Notre Dame, 84-61, in the ACC tournament championship game. The Blue Devils were Maryland’s most heated adversary when it was a member of the ACC, and the possible renewal of the contentious rivalry adds another layer of intrigue.
Duke starting point guard Lexie Brown helped Maryland reach consecutive Final Fours prior to transferring to Duke, citing her preference to be close to her home outside Atlanta and remain in the ACC.
Then of course there’s Connecticut, which has won 107 consecutive games and the past four national championships. Barring a historic upset, the Huskies will be playing in the region final in what essentially would be a home game at Webster Bank Arena, which is located less than 80 miles from the U-Conn. campus.
Making its seventh straight NCAA tournament appearance and 25th in program history, Maryland is among three teams to have played the 11-time national champions within single digits during its winning streak. The Terrapins lost, 87-81, on Dec. 29 in College Park to fall to 0-5 against Connecticut.
“Obviously when you talk about 30 wins, and you win your regular season and your conference tournament, what else are you supposed to do?” Frese said. “But for us, it’s always just been a number in front of your name, so we’ll just get as prepared as we can to get ready for the opportunity that’s in front of us.”