An NCAA tournament berth has become routine for the 11th-ranked Maryland women’s basketball team, so the Terrapins reacted more with muted enthusiasm than sheer jubilation Monday night when they learned they would face Army in the first round of this year’s event Sunday afternoon at Comcast Center.
Fourth-seeded Maryland (24-6) will play the first two rounds at home, with College Park among the hosts in the Louisville Region. If the Terrapins beat the 13th-seeded Patriot League champions, they will draw the winner of Texas, the No. 5 seed, and Pennsylvania, the 12th seed.
Tennessee earned the No. 1 seed in the Louisville Region and wouldn’t have far to travel if it reaches the Final Four, which this season is in Nashville. The third-ranked Volunteers have won eight national titles, tied for most all-time with reigning champion Connecticut. The top-ranked and undefeated Huskies are the No. 1 seed in the Lincoln Region.
The other top seeds are second-ranked and undefeated Notre Dame in the Notre Dame Region and No. 8 South Carolina in the Stanford Region.
“I never will take the NCAA tournament for granted,” Maryland Coach Brenda Frese said. “Like I told our team today, when you miss out on an opportunity to go, you’ll never take it for granted. We’ve had a few years, not too many, of those, so it’s truly an honor. These guys have put in a ton of hard work, and now we want to represent Maryland.”
It’s the second time in three seasons Maryland has played a service academy in the first round of the NCAA tournament. In 2012, the Terrapins defeated Navy, 59-44, at Comcast Center. The Midshipmen did not qualify for the NCAA tournament this season after their bid to become the second program to win four straight Patriot League tournament titles ended with a loss in the semifinals.
The only other local team to earn a bid to the tournament was James Madison, which is the 11 seed in the Lincoln Region and will play No. 6 seed Gonzaga on Saturday in College Station, Tex. The Dukes (28-5) won the Colonial Athletic Association tournament title by beating Delaware, 70-45, in Sunday’s championship game.
The Terrapins earned their fourth straight NCAA tournament berth and 10th in Frese’s 12 seasons at Maryland. They have been to the round of 16 five times and appeared in four regional finals, including winning the school’s first and only national championship in 2006. Last season, Maryland advanced to the round of 16 before losing to Connecticut.
“It’s going to be a lot fun I think,” said Maryland point guard Lexie Brown, who was named to the ACC all-freshman team. “Having [possibly] two home games is going to be great. Not being in U-Conn.’s region is great. We haven’t had the best of luck with them the last two seasons. I’m really excited.”
Maryland goes into the NCAA tournament coming off a 73-70 loss to No. 12 North Carolina in the ACC tournament quarterfinals March 7 in Greensboro, N.C., the Terrapins' final conference game as a member of the ACC. Next season Maryland is set to join the Big Ten.
The Terrapins closed the regular season with four consecutive wins and eight in nine games. Their only loss over that stretch was against No. 9 Duke.
This tournament will be the last for senior forward Alyssa Thomas, who became the school’s career scoring leader among women with a game-high 24 points against the Tar Heels, passing Crystal Langhorne. The three-time ACC player of the year needs 52 rebounds to pass Langhorne for first in that category and 12 points to pass Juan Dixon as the school’s top scorer all-time, men’s or women’s.
“Good to have the rest but definitely itching to get out there and play,” Thomas said. “We didn’t finish the way we wanted to in the conference tournament, so we’re ready for this.”