The Terrapins have no reason to hold their heads low after their defeat in the Maggie Dixon Classic, they took the best program in the country to the brinks. That was the first close game the Huskies have played in their last 47 contests, the Terps truly tested the reigning champs and learned a lot about themselves in the process. With conference play starting this week, on the road against Illinois and at home against Ohio State, there’s plenty of reasons for the Terps to have confidence in winning the Big Ten.
Last season Maryland went undefeated in conference play, including the conference tournament. Geno Auriema payed them a huge compliment stating that there were “two top teams” on the floor in the Garden and that the Terps are a much more “balanced team” than last year’s version. That balance was on display against the Huskies and is something they’ll be able to lean on going forward. A loss to Uconn doesn’t mean that you’re a bad program, especially the extremely competitive kind. Here’s what Maryland can take from their tough loss to the reigning champs:
Low post star. Brionna Jones literally had her way with Uconn’s front court, she’s a very talented big that will present problems for the entire Conference. There’s nothing like putting on a show under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden. In a prime time game, the big scored 24 points on 12-of-14 shooting. Anytime the waters got rocky, the Terps threw the ball inside to Jones to steady the ship.
Wings on Wings. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough is the star in this department, but Maryland has great depth on the wings. Against Uconn, that decided to go out of it’s way to slow down SWK, the others stepped up. Kristen Confroy hit four triples all of which were huge shots. Kiara Leslie only played three minutes, but heading into conference play she’s a weapon for the Terps as well. Both Pfirman and Kiah Gillespie are listed as Forwards, but have the ability to make plays on the perimeter and Kiah has the ability to really handle the ball. If the group behind SWK can step up, the Terps become an extremely dangerous team and they’re already very good.
Floor Generals. The Terps have two players that are capable of setting the table for teammates, Chloe Pavlech and Brene Moseley didn’t have their best games on the offensive end against the Huskies. They did account for 14 of the teams 20 assists on the night, Pavlech had nine helpers and Brene had five. They will both have games where they score the ball better, but they’ve been consistent in moving the ball around to make things easier for their teammates. Their effort on the defensive end is important, there is no drop off when one comes in and the other goes out. They do a great job setting the tone defensively on the perimeter and taking it upon themselves to make sure the ball doesn’t stick on the offensive end.
Youth. The youngsters on the team got a great experience on a big stage last night, facing the #1 team in the country for a prime time game in the Garden. Brianna Fraser and Kiah Gillespie played 11 minutes a piece. Fraser had three points, two rebounds and a block. Her three points came during a pivotal point of the game, she converted and and-one opportunity to give the Terps a two point lead. The New York native wasn’t shy on the big stage. Gillespie is a special talent, she was aggressive taking six shots. All but one were “her” shots or taken on spots of the floor that she’s comfortable on. As the year goes on and both of these youngsters get comfortable, the Terps will have two more players that can affect the outcome of a game. If the Terps hope to get over the hump and win a national title this year, these youngsters will have to play a role.
Coach Frese felt as her Terps had “closed the gap” with Uconn compared to their previous meeting in last year’s Final Four and that was clearly evident. Maryland now gets a chance to respond from the loss in New York like a championship group. They’ll be facing an Illinois team that has lost it’s last three games, the last to unranked George Washington. At 7-4 they’ll be taking on the reigning Big Ten champs in Maryland, that may be a bit on edge after their first loss of the season.