The Maryland women’s basketball team arrived back on campus early Sunday morning still stinging from its first loss of the season. The 70-64 result against Washington State was a most unexpected conclusion to what began as a relaxing trip to Puerto Rico, where the Terrapins entered ranked 10th in the country and the prohibitive favorite to win the San Juan Shootout.
Then less than 24 hours after coming home, Maryland dropped five spots in the Associated Press poll before practice began at Xfinity Center on Monday afternoon. The task of reclaiming a place in the top 10, where Maryland (6-1) resided all of last season, starts with a game against No. 2 Notre Dame in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Wednesday in Fort Wayne, Ind.
The Terrapins have lost to the perennial national power three straight times, including 87-61 in last season’s Final Four in Nashville. Notre Dame (7-0) is the only representative from the national semifinals that remains undefeated after Maryland, Stanford and Connecticut each lost within the past two weeks.
“You just look around the country. A bunch of top 10 teams have been upset,” Terrapins sophomore point guard Lexie Brown said. “I think it would be fun to pull the upset, but definitely to prove that we belong top 10, top 25, and I know a lot people probably don’t think that, but I think we belong there, and we can prove that this week.”
Maryland came tantalizingly close to beating the Fighting Irish, the runner-up in the NCAA title game in three of the past four years, last regular season in their lone league game as members of the ACC. Despite trailing by 22 late in the first half in College Park on Jan. 27, the Terrapins stormed back to take a one-point lead midway through the second half thanks to a jumper from Alyssa Thomas, who finished with 29 points, 12 rebounds and five assists in the 87-83 loss.
Thomas graduated as Maryland’s all-time leader in points and rebounds, and the Terrapins have leaned on redshirt senior guard Laurin Mincy over the first two weeks of the season to replace some of that scoring production. The search for commensurate rebounding has been more exhaustive for a program used to supremacy in that category.
Maryland is No. 27 nationally in rebounding margin (plus-10.4 per game) after finishing in the top five the past two seasons.
“I think for the most part it’s us being able to focus in on other teams and coming in ready to play for 40 minutes,” said Mincy, who leads the team in scoring with 14.1 points per game. “I think sometimes we lack focus at times being that we are young. As the only senior, it’s my duty and the returners to make sure that we’re all on the same page and all mentally prepared for the games.”
The Terrapins did win their first game in the San Juan Shootout, dispatching James Madison, 80-64, thanks to Mincy’s team-high 23 points. In the final, Maryland fell behind by 12 points in the second half before a furious rally drew the Terrapins within 59-55 with 2 minutes 27 seconds left. But Maryland would get no closer.
Among the most unsightly deficiencies against the Cougars (5-2) were a season-high 24 turnovers that led to 22 points. Brown and Mincy each committed six turnovers that in part offset the Terrapins’ 38-27 advantage in rebounding, including 12-5 offensively. Maryland, which is averaging 18 turnovers per game, also attempted 12 fewer free throws and had zero fast-break points.
Notre Dame is 11th in the country in turnover margin (plus-9.9 per game) and averages 12 turnovers per game. Sophomore point guard Lindsay Allen (St. John’s High) underscores the Fighting Irish’s attention to ball security with an assist-to-turnover ratio of better than four to one.
“I think it’s two teams that are very familiar with one another, and both have different rosters with what they’ve lost from last year and what we’ve lost,” Maryland Coach Brenda Frese said, referring to Thomas and graduated Fighting Irish all-American Kayla McBride. “But they’re playing at an extremely high rate, and we’re going to have to really improve to bring the level of our game to where we know it’s got to be.”