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Back In Familiar Setting, Maryland Looks To Continue NCAA Success

March 16, 2016
The Maryland women's basketball team never gets tired of cutting down the nets. 

The Terps earned the opportunity again March 6 in Indianapolis, when they won their second consecutive Big Ten tournament championship with a 60-44 title-game victory against Michigan State. Their sweep of Iowa, Northwestern and the Spartans gave Maryland its fourth conference tournament title since head coach Brenda Frese took over the program prior to the 2002-03 season. The victory against Michigan State enabled Maryland to reach the 30-win mark for the third time during the last five seasons, while the Terps secured the Big Ten's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament for the second straight year. 

Whether they won or lost in the conference tournament, the Terps (30-3) were still headed to the NCAA tournament for the 12th time during the last 13 years. Maryland, which had already repeated as the Big Ten's regular-season champion, was the nation's fifth-ranked team in the March 7 Associated Press poll. 

The Terps are hoping that their NCAA tournament journey ends at the same place their Big Ten season concluded. The NCAA Final Four, which has recently become a regular destination for Maryland, is scheduled for April 3 and 5 at Banker's Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The Terps are seeking their third straight trip to the Final Four after reaching the national semifinals during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 campaigns. 

"Anytime you're able to build a program, you try to create a culture and have some consistency," Frese said. "Once you're able to build it, and once you have kids that have tasted success, you want to taste it even more."

When the Terps take the court again for the first round of the NCAA tournament, they will add to an impressive postseason legacy. During the Frese era, Maryland has won an NCAA title (2006), reached the national semifinals in 2014 and 2015 and concluded its season in the Elite Eight three times (2008, 2009 and 2012). The Terps' 2012-13 season finished at the Sweet 16. 

During this successful run, Frese has been the constant. Frese, who also guided the University of Minnesota to an NCAA second-round appearance in 2001-02, has recruited some of the nation's best players. Four of Frese's recruits -- Crystal Langhorne, Kristi Toliver, Marissa Coleman and Alyssa Thomas -- have earned All-American honors. 

The current Maryland team also has its share of elite players. The junior duo of guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and center Brionna Jones earned first-team All-Big Ten recognition. Both players are among the 15 players on the national ballot for the Wooden Award, while Walker-Kimbrough is one of 10 semifinalists for the Naismith Trophy. Three Maryland players -- Walker-Kimbrough, Jones and redshirt senior guard Brene Moseley -- passed the career 1,000-point mark during the 2015-16 campaign. 

In addition to her impressive recruiting classes, Frese has hired a strong staff of assistants who have regularly moved on to become head coaches at other Division I programs. Several of her former assistants, including her sister, Marsha Frese (Missouri-Kansas City), Jeff Walz (Louisville), Daron Park (Cal State-Fullerton) and Tina Langley (Rice), are currently head coaches at Division I programs. 

But Maryland's long-established spot among the elite programs in the game and its successful postseason runs have required more than talented players and good assistants. Frese gives credit to Iowa State head coach Bill Fennelly, whom she served under from 1996-99, for preparing her for the challenge of the postseason. 

"I was fortunate to learn under Bill Fennelly," said Frese, who was an assistant coach for three Iowa State teams that played in the NCAA tournament. "The first time we were in the tournament, I found out how difficult it was to advance through each round. Being so close where you could taste, feel and smell the Final Four prepared me for the moment when I took over my own program."

While Frese strives to maximize her team's potential each year, she makes sure her players are fresh for the challenge. Her philosophy of "work plus rest equals success" is a central reason for the Terps' productivity.

"You have to have the big-picture philosophy," Frese said. "The season is a marathon, not a sprint. When you get to February, less is more. I started to see that less practice time helps you. We play our best basketball in March and seem to peak at that time."

During the Frese era, the Terps have been dominant during the season's final few weeks. Maryland has compiled a 57-21 record in March and April during the past 13 years. 

"I'd always known work, work, work and never knew the concept of rest," said Moseley, a second-team All-Big Ten choice who earned the conference's Sixth Player of the Year award. "I think Coach B. (Frese) does a perfect job of getting us some rest. Not many coaches give you the chance to have days off. There are times in the season where she tells you to stay away from the arena. What she does for us is the catalyst for our success." 

In addition to the rest that Frese builds into the schedule, she also finds ways to vary the team's routine. 

"They've come in expecting to practice, and we've taken them to the movies or bowling or played dodgeball," Frese said. "With the grind of being a student-athlete and the rigors of the season, giving them more days off helps them juggle their tasks."

Maryland's postseason success has also been helped by its ability to consistently earn a high seed in the 64-team NCAA tournament field. The tournament's top 16 seeds are chosen to host the sub-regionals, and Maryland has earned home-court privileges at the Xfinity Center for its first-round and second-round games during each of its last eight NCAA appearances. 

"When you get into the tournament, everyone's traveling," Moseley said. "Having the games at home gives you a kind of comfort. It's good to get our feet wet here."

Issue 219: March 2016