Defense key ingredient of success for France

Maryland women: The sophomore averages 11.7 points, but her ability to stop opponents is what makes her so valuable.

College Basketball

February 28, 2005|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

If you want dazzling accuracy from the perimeter, go see Maryland sophomore guard Shay Doron. If you're searching for brute strength in the low post, find freshman center Crystal Langhorne.

But when Terps coach Brenda Frese needs aggressive, tight, where-you-go-I-go defense, she turns to sophomore guard Kalika France.

"My job defensively is to make it the most difficult night for [the opponent]," France said. "As a defensive player, I know I'm not going to stop everybody, but my goal is to make the shot as difficult as possible. If I played good defense and she had to throw up something desperate, I can live with that because I made her work."

Opponents might begin to think a day in a cramped office might be better than lacing it up against France and Maryland. The Terps are surrendering 65.2 points a game, which would be the program's best mark in three seasons.

At the forefront of that defensive stand is France, a 5-foot-9 native of Forestville, who said her coaches stressed the importance of defense since she began playing basketball when she was 7 years old.

"They always told me that if I wanted to stay on the floor, I had to play defense," France recalled. "It doesn't matter how many points you score. If you can play defense, there's a role for you on the team."

That's not to imply that France takes it easy on the offensive end. An honorable mention All-Atlantic Coast Conference pick after averaging 11.7 points her freshman year, France ranks third in scoring with 11.7 points a game this season.

France has reached the double-digit mark in points in 19 of 26 games this season, but her defensive prowess is what delights Frese.

"It's nice to be able to have a player who looks at her defense as being just as important as her offense," said Frese, who has assigned France to mark National Player of the Year candidates such as Duke junior forward Monique Currie and LSU junior guard Seimone Augustus. "A lot of times, you only get one side of the coin, and it's always the offensive end."

France has registered some impressive efforts this season. She has limited Arizona senior guard Dee-Dee Wheeler and Georgia Tech freshman guard Chioma Nnamaka to half of their season averages.

And even though Currie scored 14 points in a 60-49 Maryland loss Feb. 13, France harassed Currie into 3-for-12 shooting, including a 0-for-3 display from behind the three-point arc.

France isn't even completely healthy. Painful tendinitis in both knees prevents her from practicing days after games, and an allergy to many anti-inflammatory medications worsens the ordeal.

France wasn't even supposed to play against Virginia Tech last Thursday. She did, however, and scored 14 points in an 87-79 loss that prevented the Terps from securing the No. 5 seed and a first-round bye in this weekend's ACC tournament.

Afterward, France carried a big bag of ice and planned to visit the team trainer for heat and ice treatment, but Doron said France tries not to burden her teammates with her pain.

"She hasn't tried to use that as an excuse," said Doron, who has known France since the two roomed together at a Nike camp the summer before their junior years in high school. "Not many people would push through it and play 40 minutes a game. She's a warrior."

France is not scheduled to play in tonight's 7 p.m. game against Northern Colorado at Comcast Center so she can save her knees for the tournament. But she wouldn't go so far as completely ruling herself out.

"If my team needs me [today], I'll be dressed and ready to go," she said.

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