Young returnees signal bright future
Maryland equipped to build on Final Four appearance
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Maryland’s incredible run to the Women’s Final Four may have come to an end with a lopsided 87-61 loss to Notre Dame on Sunday, but there were some bright spots the Terrapins can build upon as they look toward next season.
Yes, All-American Alyssa Thomas played her final collegiate game at Maryland (28-7), and that will leave a gaping hole in the starting lineup, but the younger Terrapins showed some promise as their senior leader was shut down by the Fighting Irish, scoring only five points in the first half and finishing with 14 points and six rebounds on the night.
Freshmen like center Brionna Jones and point guard Lexie Brown have played integral roles for the Terrapins throughout the season and a Women’s Final Four appearance -- the program’s first since 2006 -- will certainly serve as a boost for the future.
“When you get to have that kind of experience, when you make the run that we did, Sweet 16, Elite Eight and to be able to play on the biggest stage, it can do nothing but help your returners,” Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said.
“When you look at the nucleus of who we have returning and our three freshmen and the presence they've been able to have and the depth we've been able to have this season, definitely that experience factor is key. Just like Notre Dame's been to the Final Four four times … you can't substitute for that kind of experience.”
Jones contributed her second-best scoring performance of the season, leading the Terrapins with 16 points on 7 of 10 field goals, and grabbed three rebounds. It was her first double-digit scoring total since contributing 15 points at Georgia Tech on Feb. 23.
“[Brionna] was huge,” Frese said. “I thought she was really poised. She didn’t play like a freshman. She played like she's been to the Final Four. She gave us a tremendous inside post presence.”
Brown connected on just 3 of 10 field goals, but she dished out eight assists and turned the ball over just twice. Brown had a superb NCAA tournament, posting double-figures in all five of Maryland’s contests, including 11 points against the Irish.
In addition, junior guard Laurin Mincy, who missed most of last season with a torn ACL, came off the bench to score 11 points, giving the Terps a much-needed offensive boost -- something she did during the entire NCAA tournament, averaging 9.0 points per game in five contests. Mincy will be the lone senior on Maryland’s roster next year.
“It’s too early to think about life after Alyssa,” Frese said. “But I am encouraged by the great minutes that our team was able to get this year, when you talk about our underclassmen and the depth that we were able to develop.”
Frese and Maryland women’s basketball will miss Thomas immensely. But what Thomas taught her younger teammates will undoubtedly serve them well for the future.
“I'm going to miss her so much,” Brown said. “She's one of the most dependable teammates I've ever played with, and I'm just sad that we couldn't win our championship. But how far she brought us has been amazing.”
Yes, life will be different without Thomas for the Terrapins, but it won’t end. It will just change.
“I’m encouraged by the presence that we got from Brionna [on Sunday night], Lexie, Laurin, Shatori [Walker-Kimbrough],” Frese said. "There's a lot of great things for us as a team to be able to look forward to and it will just be a different style of play in terms of how we move forward.”