When you look back at that game - second game of the season, first game on the road, bringing in five new freshmen to that kind of element - I thought we played like a young team, recalled Maryland head coach Brenda Frese in a press conference on Monday, March 21, one day before the Terps and Hoyas are to face off again in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
However, the Terps have drastically improved since that first meeting, strengthening their performance in every statistical category as well as developing a greater sense of composure, confidence, and court vision.
During the interim, the Terps earned 20-plus-point victories over highly regarded opponents Duke and North Carolina, went 9-5 in the ACC, claimed the ACC Rookie of the Year award in Alyssa Thomas, and stunned countless teams with their powerful combination of size, strength, speed, and depth.
So, even though the fourth-seeded Terps remained humble in Monday's press conference and denied the classification of Tuesday's matchup with the fifth-seeded Hoyas as a revenge match, the Terps made it clear that they expect Tuesday's game to be entirely different.
I definitely think we're a different team, Thomas said of her team's progression since last facing Georgetown. Looking back at the first game, we missed a lot of easy layups and second chance opportunities, and just looking to where we are now, it's a definite difference.
Against the Hoyas, the Terps hope to maintain a calmer presence under the inevitable pressure from the Hoyas swarming, trapping defense. They hope to be aided by the increased confidence that comes with experience they have gained during their regular season and the knowledge that comes from having faced the Hoyas previously this year.
We understand that this is going to be a game where Georgetown is going to come in and they're going to press for 40 minutes and they're going to make you play for 40 minutes, said Frese. Their defense is what leads them in their game.
The Terps also have the advantage of having faced Georgia Tech, a team that executes a similarly relentless press, in the ACC Tournament, which has caused the Terps to spend a considerable amount of time in the past two weeks practicing press breaks and remaining composed in a frenetic environment. The lessons learned from struggles against the Yellow Jackets will likely benefit the Terps against the Hoyas.
It's really going to be about making crisp passes, making sure we don't rush, junior Kim Rodgers said of how the Terps will handle Georgetown's press. We do our best against presses when we stay calm and we stay poised, so it's just going to be about us making sure we don't have unforced turnovers and just really doing everything we can to take care of the ball.
In general, playing Georgetown is now slightly easier from a scouting report [perspective], according to Frese, because your players know tendencies and personnel, and there's really no secrets in this game, both teams know each other extremely well.
The Terps will also look to exercise their own threatening defense against the Hoyas. I think what stands out the most is that you can play multiple defenses with this team, said Frese. We can cover on-ball screens differently, we can extend to zone, half court, full court. We can present different match-ups, problems, based on our defense.
The Terps' defense has been especially impressive along the perimeter as of late, as they have demonstrated in practice a dedication to preventing penetration and trapping before the offense can even begin their sets, a point of emphasis that will likely be critical against the smaller, explosive Hoyas.
Another essential component for a Terrapin victory will likely be continued dominance in the interior and on the boards, as it has been integral to their success all season and could be highly profitable against an undersized team. The Terps have always capitalized on their drastic height advantage, using offensive rebounds to generate high percentage shots under the basket, second chance points, and defensive rebounds to spark their transition game.
I think on both ends we've got to get the ball up the floor to be able to use our size inside, our advantage on the glass, said Frese.
Georgetown head coach Terri Williams-Flournoy recognizes the effect of Maryland's interior dominance as well. Williams-Flournoy indicates that her team's backcourt pressure defense, when unable to force a turnover first, is designed to limit the Maryland post players' touches.
Pressuring in the backcourt and making them only have 10 to 12 seconds to get the ball over the court hopefully will help us defend in the low post so it's not as long as trying to defend there, said Williams-Flournoy.
Williams-Flournoy also elaborates to argue that Maryland's rebounding capabilities could render the Hoyas' press irrelevant if the Hoyas are not vigilant.
I think it still comes down to the most important thing and that's rebounding to finish out the play, she said. It doesn't really matter if we make them take a long time to get the ball over the court and get a shot up [if] we don't get the defensive rebound that we need to get.
The Terps have a demonstrable advantage in this area, averaging 45.7 rebounds per game and holding the fourth-best rebounding margin (+12.5) in the country. The Hoyas average 36.7 rebounds per contest and own a margin of just +0.5.
Williams-Flournoy believes, however, that her team will be able to effectively combat Maryland's size advantage with the use of forward Tia Magee, whose height and athleticism she believes will make their press even more effective. Magee did not play in the teams' first meeting in order to rest an injury.
I think probably one of the biggest differences in this game that we will play tomorrow evening is called Tia Magee, said Williams-Flournoy. Now, our back-line pressure becomes even more aggressive.
Finally, although both teams are confident, the Hoyas' tone revealed somewhat of an over-confidence in Monday's press conference, as noted by all in attendance.
Why wouldn't we be? Williams-Flournoy responded when asked about the team's attitude. You want us to be scared because we're playing at Maryland? We're not scared.
As far as Maryland's concerned, I don't know if you guys know, but we beat Tennessee earlier this season and we've played UConn three times already, added the talkative and assertive senior Monica McNutt,
The two well-matched teams will tip off in an undoubtedly heated contest on Tuesday, March 22, at 7:00 p.m. in Comcast Center.