When the Maryland women’s basketball team traveled to Hartford, Conn., last season for its first-ever meeting against Connecticut, a rash of injuries had so depleted the roster that the Terrapins were down to eight players in the 63-48 loss.
A year later, with the top-ranked Huskies making their inaugural visit to College Park on Friday night, Maryland has nearly double the firepower thanks to an offseason of rest and rehabilitation as well as an infusion of freshmen constituting one of Coach Brenda Frese’s most highly regarded recruiting classes.
“We got to play them twice last year,” Frese said of Connecticut, which also beat Maryland, 76-50 , in the Sweet 16 on the way to its eighth national championship. “So no question I think for our returners it will be big. I’m excited for our new kids to be in that element and have that opportunity. It’ll be a new experience for quite a few kids.”
Maryland’s depth already has made a difference over the first week of the season. In the opener Nov. 8 at South Florida , two-time ACC player of the year Alyssa Thomas played 10 minutes because of foul trouble, and the starting lineup combined to score 14 points.
But the Terrapins (2-0) got 64 points from reserves in a 78-70 road victory. Leading the way was junior shooting guard Laurin Mincy, who scored a team-high 15 points in her first game since a torn ACL ended her 2012-13 season in November. The Terrapins also got 12 points from freshman forward Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and 11 points and six assists from freshman Lexie Brown.
Mincy is among three Maryland players working their way back to full health from an ACL injury. Sophomore Brene Moseley, a first-team All-Met at Paint Branch High, missed the entire season when she tore her ACL during a preseason scrimmage, and senior center Essence Townsend also redshirted after an ACL tear in a preseason game Nov. 5.
“The first time we played U-Conn., I was like, ‘Oh my God, it’s U-Conn.,’ ” Terrapins sophomore Chloe Pavlech said. “But you kind of have to remember at the end of the day it’s just basketball. Being able to already have played them twice, I’m still going to be nervous obviously for this game, but I think the nerves have definitely calmed down.”
Pavlech logged a team-high 38 minutes during the first meeting last year, scoring 10 points on 5-for-10 shooting with three assists and two steals, but she doesn’t figure to play nearly as much this time. Maryland’s second-leading three-point shooter last season is part of a point guard rotation that also includes Brown and Moseley.
In Sunday’s 89-53 win over Loyola at Comcast Center, all three received double-digit minutes, combining for 19 points, and bench players contributed 43 points in all.
The Huskies (2-0), meanwhile, arrive shorthanded. Starting forward Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis hurt her elbow in Monday’s 76-57 victory over No. 3 Stanford and is out indefinitely. The junior all-American led Connecticut in scoring last season with 17.6 points per game.
The Huskies also are without reserve Morgan Tuck. The sophomore forward had surgery Tuesday on her right knee and is out four to six weeks, according to the school. Tuck had swelling in her knee because of a cartilage injury since the start of the season.
Still, U-Conn. has plenty of other options, most notably forward Breanna Stewart. The sophomore was named most outstanding player in last season's Final Four. Also in the mix is freshman Saniya Chong, who was the national high school player of the year last season.
“There’s a reason why they’re defending national champions and number one” in the country, Frese said. “I mean, they lose a key offensive starter, and they just get better with the depth that they have. They can continue to take all-Americans off the bench.”
But the Huskies won’t have the luxury of using defensive whiz Kelly Faris to guard Thomas, a two-time all-American and national player of the year candidate. Faris graduated following last season but not before helping to limit Thomas to 6-for-28 shooting in two games.
During the teams’ first meeting, Thomas missed 10 of 12 shots and committed eight turnovers and four personal fouls in 36 minutes. Thomas’s six points were her second fewest of the season, but following that game she scored in double figures 28 straight times.
“We’ve been waiting for this game for a while,” Thomas said. “I think last year definitely prepared us for this.”