Among the most vivid images from last season’s first game between the Maryland and North Carolina women’s basketball teams was Terrapins guard Katie Rutan down on the court at Carmichael Arena, her broken nose gushing blood following a collision in a scramble for the ball.
Rutan wore a clear protective mask the rest of the season that in part served as a reminder of how contentious the rivalry between the programs can be. Maryland is anticipating no less rugged conditions Sunday during its final ACC opener in Chapel Hill, N.C.
“It’s always a war with them,” Terrapins Coach Brenda Frese said. “It’s always extremely physical. You absolutely have to be prepared for that kind of battle.”
Maryland (12-1), which is set to join the Big Ten next season, enters having won 10 consecutive games and having scored at least 103 points in three of its last four victories. The Terrapins, ranked eighth nationally, have won five of seven against No. 10 North Carolina.
Maryland lost last season at Carmichael Arena, 60-57, in a game that included nearly 40 personal fouls and neither team shooting better than 36 percent. There were 34 combined turnovers, and Maryland was able to stay within reach because of the Tar Heels’ inconsistent foul shooting over the closing minutes.
This time the Terrapins are much better equipped to handle what figures to be another rough-and-tumble affair. The most noteworthy upgrade is their depth, with 11 players averaging double figures in minutes.
“I definitely think it’s going to play to our strengths,” said Terrapins senior forward Alyssa Thomas, the reigning two-time ACC player of the year. “We have so many scorers, and a lot of people coming off the bench who can give us energy so I definitely think it’s going to help us.”
Before last year’s game at Carmichael, the Terrapins absorbed season-ending injuries to guards Laurin Mincy and Brene Moseley and center Essence Townsend. The depleted roster left Frese with three regular bench players, including one who began her career as a walk-on. Last season’s ACC coach of the year had few options other than to play her starters extended minutes.
The lack of a tested point guard also contributed to the loss, but this season, Frese has a promising freshman starting at the position and two capable backups with experience handling the ball.
A high school all-American last year, Lexie Brown replaced Chloe Pavlech as the starter four games into this season. Pavlech, a sophomore, started 31 games last season after Moseley, a redshirt sophomore named to the all-ACC freshman team in 2011-12, tore her ACL during a preseason scrimmage.
Thomas leads the Terrapins in scoring (17.6 points per game) and has two triple-doubles this season to push her career total to four, the most in school history for men or women. The two-time all-American leads the country with 12 double-doubles and needs nine points to surpass Vicky Bullett as Maryland’s No. 4 career scorer.
Maryland’s second-leading scorer is freshman guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough. The most recent ACC rookie of the week has scored in double figures in 10 of 13 games.
“We had nonconference play to work on some things, work on our defense, rebounding to get the freshmen confidence,” Mincy said. “So I think we’re just excited to finally begin conference play.”