NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Ask Maryland head coach Brenda Frese what her team has that no other team does, and she gives a very quick and definitive answer.
It’s not difficult to understand why Frese doesn’t have think very long about it. Thomas, a First-Team All-America by the Associated Press, USBWA and John R. Wooden Award, has been the driving force in getting the Terrapins back to the Women’s Final Four for the first time since 2006.“Her will to win and the way she puts this team on her back … nobody else has that,” Frese said.
A senior from Harrisburg, Pa., Thomas arrived in Nashville averaging 19.1 points per game, grabbing 11.0 rebounds per game and contributing 4.3 assists per game, and is only the second player in history to earn Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year honors three times in a career. In the first round of the NCAA tournament, Thomas became Maryland’s all-time leading scorer -- women’s or men’s – and is tied with former Terrapin Crystal Langhorne as the school’s leading rebounder with 1,229 career boards.
If that’s not enough, Thomas has stepped up her game during Maryland’s NCAA tournament run. She netted a career-high 33 points as Maryland knocked off No. 1 seed Tennessee and followed it up with 22 points as the Terps upended No. 3 seed Louisville on the Cardinals’ home court. Plus, she pulled down 13 rebounds in both contests.
“When you talk about her growth in terms of communication and leading the team, not only by example, but by powerful words, she has truly been the ultimate team leader,” Frese said.
“She’s the most important person on this team,” Maryland freshman point guard Lexie Brown said. “Everyone’s important but every team has a leader and Alyssa is our fearless leader. She brings so much to the table. She gets everyone involved and then she goes and drops 30 points on Tennessee. She can do it all and she’s been an awesome teammate to have this year.”
Thomas has accomplished just about everything on a college basketball player’s bucket list imaginable. She’s even been to the Women’s Final Four (for an All-America team honor), but she hasn’t stepped on the court and played in the sport’s top event. After Sunday’s NCAA semifinal against Notre Dame, Thomas can cross that off the list.
“The biggest thing [about being at the Final Four] is to experience this for my teammates,” Thomas said. “I've been saying it for the longest time. I just want them to be here with me. I'm really excited that, finally get to be on the playing side of the Final Four.”
“It feels amazing to be able to bring AT [Alyssa Thomas] to the Final Four,” Frese said. “If we wouldn't have been able to do that, I think personally I would have felt regrets as a coach not being able to get her here. She's a phenomenal person, even a better family when you talk about her parents, and she deserves every single moment of this.”
Thomas has notched 28 double-doubles in 34 games this year and leads the nation with four triple-doubles. She is one of just three players in NCAA history with six or more triple-doubles in her career and is one triple-double shy of tying the NCAA career and season records.
One of this season’s double-doubles came in Maryland’s 87-83 loss to Notre Dame on Jan. 27. She put up 29 points and 12 rebounds as the Terps rallied from a 22-point deficit before eventually coming up short against the Irish.
“Alyssa Thomas was unstoppable,” Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw said. “She was phenomenal in the second half. She rebounded, she scored, she did everything she wanted to do. She played like the All American that she is.”
After watching film of that last meeting with the Terrapins, McGraw is not sure she what the Fighting Irish can do to slow Thomas down in Sunday’s rematch.
“I don't know that you can guard her,” McGraw said. “I think she's really, really difficult to match up with. But at least we saw some of the problems that we had and tried to fix them the last couple of days.”
“Alyssa Thomas is a great player, All American,” Notre Dame senior guard Kayla McBride said. “We're going to have to contain her and be able to contain their transition game and their rebounding game.”
And while those around her can’t stop talking about what she means to Maryland, the humble Thomas credits her teammates for finally getting her here.
“I think I'm just a player on the team,” Thomas said. “We have plenty of people that can score on our team. I think we've proved it throughout this tournament that it's not just all about me.”
“You really have to try to have an awareness where she is all the time,” McGraw said. “And they're good enough you can't forget about anybody else, which makes it even more difficult.”