Feb. 17, 2008, is a day Maryland women’s basketball Coach Brenda Frese will hold dear for the rest of her life, and it has virtually nothing to do with the Terrapins’ victory over Duke that afternoon.
Sure, it was the last time Maryland won at Cameron Indoor Stadium, but that morning, Frese had given birth to twin sons Markus and Tyler Thomas. Frese’s players learned the news hours before tip-off, and they parlayed their enthusiasm into a 76-69 triumph that added to the lore of the heated series dating from 1978.
Six years to the day later, Frese will be on the bench for ninth-ranked Maryland’s last regular season game against its arch rival as a member of the ACC. The Terrapins are headed to the Big Ten next year, and No. 7 Duke does not make a trip to College Park this season for the first time since 1980-81.
Accompanying Frese to the game will be her sons, who are making their first trip to the Blue Devils’ iconic arena so they can be in Durham, N.C., to celebrate their birthday with their mother.
“Obviously an amazing day when you have that lined up, delivering twins and then having your team go win down at Cameron, which is certainly difficult to be able to do,” Frese said. “Another special moment in our history.”
Maryland (20-4, 8-3 ACC) has lost in its last five trips to Duke, but enters Monday’s game having won four straight by an average margin of nearly 38 points. The Terrapins are coming off a 67-52 win against Miami in which Alyssa Thomas collected 18 points and 12 rebounds for the senior forward’s 19th double-double in 24 games.
Thomas had one of the most memorable moments in her decorated career when the two-time ACC player of the year deflected a shot at the buzzer to preserve a 63-61 win against Duke two years ago at Comcast Center. The block made the rounds on television sports highlight shows, including rising to No. 1 on that day’s top 10 plays ESPN’s “SportsCenter.”
“It’s a huge rivalry,” Thomas said. “Whenever you can get a win against Duke, it’s huge. We definitely have a lot of energy for this game, and you’re always trying to knock them off.”
In last season’s 71-56 loss at Cameron, Thomas had 14 points and 12 rebounds but missed 15 of 19 shots. The two-time all-American also was involved in a sequence in the second half that so infuriated Frese that she wound up being ejected for the first time in her career.
Thomas was heading back on defense when Chelsea Gray, Duke’s all-ACC point guard, moved in front to try to shield her from the play. Frese voiced her displeasure to officials going into a timeout, and the exchange yielded a technical foul.
Referee Denise Brooks issued a second technical to Frese during the stoppage, leading to the ejection and Frese to say, “I’m always going to fight for our players.” Those closest to Frese said officials have yet to provide a clear explanation as to why she was assessed the second technical.
“It’s very important. It always means something,” Maryland senior center Alicia DeVaughn said of the rivalry. “It’s not just every day you can go and just beat Duke. It’s something that you take pride in trying to beat them. They’re a good team, and you always take pride trying to get a win, especially in their gym.”
The Blue Devils (22-3, 9-2) have lost consecutive games at home for the first time since 1994, most recently to North Carolina, 89-78. They also lost to Notre Dame, 88-67, Feb. 2 and have played the last nine games without Gray, who is out for the season with a fractured right kneecap.
Maryland is a game behind Duke and North Carolina State for second place in the ACC. The Terrapins have five games left in the regular season and are seeking a top-four finish in the conference. The top four seeds receive a double bye into the ACC tournament quarterfinals and avoid playing potentially five games in as many days.
“We’ve gotten better as the season’s gone on,” Maryland senior guard Katie Rutan said. “We’re in a great place, and we’re working really hard, and we’ll be preparing especially for this game, getting all of our freshman ready for it, showing them and teaching them the environment they’re about to go in.”