Young Terps head into tournament with much to learn

Maryland hosts Saint Francis in first-round game Sunday

March 19, 2011

COLLEGE PARK — — For Maryland women's basketball coach Brenda Frese, the week approaching tip-off of this NCAA tournament has been as much about educating her players as scouting the opponent or installing in-game tactics. Such is the requirement that accompanies directing a youthful team not exactly sure what to anticipate when the proceedings begin on Sunday.

The fourth-seeded Terrapins are so reliant on underclassmen that the majority of the roster has no firsthand familiarity with the NCAAs. At this time last year, many of Maryland's current regulars had just completed high school tournaments. Others were getting set for the Women's National Invitation Tournament.

Thus the teachable moments have been profuse in advance of the Terrapins' first-round game against No. 13 seed Saint Francis (Pa.) at Comcast Center, where 16th-ranked Maryland is 13-2 this season and 11-2 in the NCAAs. This will be Maryland's 19th appearance in the NCAA tournament and seventh in nine seasons under Frese, who won the national championship in 2006.

"I think with a young team, it's more you're trying even to explain to them what the NCAA tournament is, so to speak," Frese said. "It's like [freshman center] Alicia DeVaughn telling me she didn't know who the Fab Five were. You know, you're just perplexed, so that kind of education process, the fact that only three of our players have been in the NCAA tournament, that's a different element."

That trio comprises center Lynetta Kizer and guards Anjale Barrett and Kim Rodgers, all juniors. They were freshmen when the Terrapins (23-7) last qualified for the NCAA tournament, although only Kizer averaged more than 17 minutes per game that season.

Last season, Maryland's string of six consecutive NCAA berths ended during a transitional period for the program. There was just one senior who played regularly in 2009-10, and reinforcements were soon to arrive with one of the most highly regarded recruiting classes in the country.

Alyssa Thomas was the centerpiece, and the guard-forward validated Frese's early pursuit of her by being named Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year and second-team All-ACC. Thomas leads Maryland in scoring (14.2 points per game) and is second in rebounding (7.2). DeVaughn, meantime, is averaging 18 minutes per game as Kizer's understudy, and freshman guards Laurin Mincy and Natasha Cloud have accumulated substantial minutes in important games.

That youth has Maryland positioned for the future, but it has also betrayed the Terrapins on occasion this season. They have been among the most fickle teams in the country, at one juncture appearing equipped for an extended postseason stay but just as quickly losing that momentum with a baffling loss.

Take, for instance, convincing victories over North Carolina and Duke, the representatives in the ACC tournament championship game two weeks ago, set against losses to Boston College and Virginia. Both those schools missed the NCAA tournament.

"No season is ever guaranteed or duplicated," Frese said, "so you have to take each season in and of its own. You have a tremendous opportunity in front of yourself this year, so let's go and see how far we can get with this team and this season because there are no guarantees for next year that we're going to be better or how things are going to play out. You've got to take advantage of your opportunity now."

Maryland's juniors and sophomores recalled how deflating last season's snub was, and it elevated their appreciation for making it back this time. Kizer was especially emotional after the field was unveiled Monday night, needing to compose herself to conduct interviews. Then she spoke extensively about how playing in late March is a privilege not to be considered lightly.

That's the message the juniors in particular have been conveying to their teammates, whose closest brush with an NCAA-type environment was a first-round loss to Georgia Tech in the ACC tournament more than two weeks ago.

"You never know what can happen," Rodgers said. "We've had a lot of people on our team who have had injuries, so some of us know what it's like to have the game taken from you. I think everybody understands this is it, and if we win, that means more postseason time, more postseason workouts, more times when you get to play another official game. I think everybody's got a good grasp of that."

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