COLLEGE PARK (AP) — As No. 7 Maryland charges toward another Big Ten title, coach Brenda Frese is already preparing the team for a deep run in March.
The Terrapins have used balanced scoring and a relentless defense to peel off 13 straight wins and jump 13 notches in the Top 25. With a victory in the regular-season finale at Minnesota on Sunday, Maryland (24-4, 15-2) will claim the top seed in the Big Ten Tournament.
Although the Terps have won their last five games by an average of 34.4 points, Frese isn’t ready to put the team on cruise control.
“Obviously, as coaches, we know everything we need to work on and so we’re never satisfied and neither are these guys,” Frese said after an 88-45 beatdown of Purdue on Tuesday night.
Developing depth and efficient ball-handling are the top priorities. The Terps dress only nine players, so getting 12 points off the bench from freshman guard Diamond Miller against Purdue was a sign that the starters won’t have to carry the entire load in Maryland’s bid to enter the NCAA Tournament as Big Ten champs for the fourth time in six years.
“We’ve obviously had a lot of success in the Big Ten Tournament,” Frese said. “If you want to be there the last day standing on that podium, three games in three days, it takes an entire team with the amount of minutes and how quickly you turn around. To see the bench peaking at the right time is huge to our success.”
Senior Kaila Charles is the leading scorer on a team that has five players averaging in double figures. Charles is more than willing to handle the brunt of the offense, but would be delighted to get help from the other four starters and the reserves.
Actually, she’s counting on it.
“We need everybody to contribute. We need everybody to be hot,” Charles said. “They can’t just stop a team when we have nine players that can score. That’s something that we are going to need going forward to be successful.”
Scoring is only part of it. The Terps had 10 steals and forced 24 turnovers against the Boilermakers, who tallied only 23 points in the second half.
“No matter who comes in, they are a weapon on offense and defense, and you can’t simulate that in practice,” Purdue coach Sharon Versyp said. “Their type of length and athleticism, you think you can find a mismatch, but you can’t because of their pressure on the basketball.”
Frese has taken Maryland to the Final Four three times and won the NCAA championship in 2006. This team has the potential to go a long way, but for that to happen the Terps can’t afford giveaways on the offensive end.
“Understanding the big picture is fine tuning as we get to March games, which are going to come down to possession,” Frese said, stressing that Maryland’s careless handling of the ball in the first half against Purdue just won’t do.
“You can’t have 12 turnovers, especially the unforced ones we had in this game, if you want to make a run late in March and if you want to win the Big Ten Tournament,” she said.
Following a scolding at halftime, the Terps committed only three turnovers over the final 20 minutes and scored 53 points.
“When we are not turning the basketball over, you see our efficiency. We share the basketball, have a positive assist to turnover ratio and have five players in double figures,” Frese noted. “I love how we can challenge this team and they respond. They take it to heart and they really want to play at a high level.”