What’s it going to take for a team to knock off two-time defending NCAA champion Connecticut?
Great guard play, according to the UConn head coach Geno Auriemma. And Maryland’s talented backcourt will be up for that challenge in Sunday night’s NCAA semifinals.
The Terrapins’ trio of guards -- Laurin Mincy, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Lexie Brown -- have shined this season, leading Maryland back to the Women’s Final Four for the second consecutive season despite the loss of five seniors.“In my opinion I feel like we do have one of the best backcourts in the country,” Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said. “And when you talk about what these three have been able to do together, you know, they've been a huge part to our success this season.”
And the trio has especially thrived in the postseason. Mincy, Maryland’s lone senior, leads the squad with 17.8 points per game -- four more than her season average -- while shooting 56.4 percent and has dished out 21 assists in four contests. The All-Big Ten Second Team pick has also been lights out from 3-point range, hitting 12 of 19 (.632) in the tournament. She has scored in double-figures in 26 of 36 games this season.
Walker-Kimbrough, a sophomore All-Big Ten First Team selection, has contributed 14.0 points per game with a 48.9 shooting percentage in the postseason. She netted 24 points against Duke and followed it up with 12 points and seven rebounds against Tennessee to earn Spokane Regional Most Outstanding Player honors.
Brown, a sophomore point guard and daughter of former NBA slam dunk champion Dee Brown, had some turnover and shooting troubles early on in the tournament, but bounced back to score 15 points -- 13 in the second half -- with six rebounds and three assists against Tennessee in the regional final. Despite scoring woes against Duke, Brown contributed 11.0 points per game in the tournament. She can get hot from beyond the arc and the Huskies are well aware of her ability.
“Lexie Brown is a great shooter,” Connecticut guard Moriah Jefferson said. “I have to do my best to try to contain her and keep her from driving to the lane. The other guards are good also. They're really aggressive guards, and we have to make sure that they can't penetrate on us when they're trying to get to the basket and kick it off to the big guys.”
So, while the loss of Maryland All-American forward Alyssa Thomas after last season was a big blow, Auriemma thinks this year’s Terrapins might be tougher to defend.
“Everybody probably thinks they don't have the inside game that they used to have, but at this time of the year, I don't care how many big guys you have, your guards are going to win your games in March,” Auriemma said. “You have to have great guards who play great. And their guards play great the whole tournament, and that's the biggest worry that we have [Sunday].”
That’s what Frese is counting on -- good guard play and a complete team approach -- when the Terrapins look to knock off the Huskies and advance to Tuesday’s championship game.
“I think we're a really hard scout,” Frese said. “We’re the only team down here that has no All‑Americans, and I think that's what makes us so dangerous is because we're a team.”