RALEIGH, N.C. — For all its size and sturdiness in the front court, the Maryland women’s basketball team still leans heavily on guard play, which at this time of the year expands in importance as the NCAA tournament field compresses.
That doesn’t mean Coach Brenda Frese is necessarily asking her back court to handle the primary scoring, although sophomore shooting guard Laurin Mincy had 24 points, one short of her career high, in Monday’s second-round win over Louisville.
The imperative instead heading into Sunday’s region semifinal against third-seeded Texas A&M is ball security, meaning the regular guard rotation of Mincy, Anjale Barrett, Brene Moseley and Kim Rodgers must be especially attentive considering the ball is in their hands for much of the game.
“We do talk about just how important possessions are when games are going to come down to the wire,” Frese said. “So hopefully that’s just kind of been embedded in their minds in terms of taking care of the basketball.”
Second-seeded Maryland of late has been at its most efficient in limiting turnovers. The Terrapins have committed 39 turnovers combined in their last three games, including 11 in a first-round NCAA tournament victory over Navy. That total is Maryland’s fewest in any three-game stretch this season.
The Terrapins’ turnover average since beating Georgia Tech, 68-65, on March 4 to win the ACC tournament title is more than three fewer than their season average of 16.4. In beating the Yellow Jackets, Maryland committed 12 turnovers, 10 less than its previous game against Wake Forest in the ACC tournament semifinals.
In the seven games before the ACC final, Maryland averaged 20 turnovers, including a season-high 24in a win over Virginia in the conference quarterfinals. Although the Terrapins (30-4) won six of those games, players became more mindful with regard to valuing each possession as the stakes elevated heading into the postseason.
“You can’t win a game with 20 or more turnovers,” said Barrett, a senior point guard who leads Maryland and is second in the ACC with 5.1 assists per game. “We’re definitely trying to keep that down. Coming from my end, if I don’t turn the ball over as much, it gives everyone else confidence to make the right plays, and just think before you throw it.”
Striking a balance in Maryland’s fast-break-oriented offense is the charge for Barrett and Moseley, who was named to the ACC all-freshman team and was an All-Met as a junior at Paint Branch High. The Terrapins prefer to push the ball into the offensive zone off missed shots, and when they’re dialed in, easy layups frequently ensue.
But during careless moments, so can turnovers. Maryland, though, has been able to mask those errors in large part because of extra possessions from fierce offensive rebounding. The Terrapins average 17 offensive rebounds a game, good for third in the ACC.
In drawing the Aggies (24-10), Maryland’s ball security figures to be put through one of its stiffest tests all season. Texas A&M leads the Big 12 in steals, and its pressure defense forces an average of 20 turnovers per game, the most in the conference.
The Aggies also have championship pedigree in the back court with seniors Tyra White and Sydney Carter, who combined to play all but two minutes in a 76-70 victory over Notre Dame in last season’s NCAA title game.
Texas A&M Coach Gary Blair hinted during Saturday’s news conference that Carter, even at 5 feet 6, would guard ACC player of the year Alyssa Thomas, at least part of the time. Thomas is 6-2, and Blair called her one of the best offensive rebounders he’s seen in some time.
“We’re known for our rebounding and our transition, but we’ve got to take care of the ball on the offensive end,” said Moseley, who is averaging 7.1 points and 2.7 assists per game. “We can get the ball in the bucket, but we’ve got to take care of it and value our possessions, so once we do that, we’ll be fine.”