COLLEGE PARK, Md. – For one game at least, Maryland coach Brenda Frese figures the pressure is off.
The fourth-seeded Terrapins face top-seeded Stanford on Friday night in the Sweet 16. This is only the second time in the last seven NCAA Tournaments that Maryland is seeded this low. It’s also the first time the Terps will play against a No. 1 seed since 2015, and that game – a loss to Connecticut – was in the Final Four when Maryland was also a top seed.
So this scenario – a No. 4 playing a No. 1 – is pretty rare for Frese.
“We’re playing with house money. We’re going to go in there and play Maryland basketball,” she said. “We’re not going to be intimidated. We’ve already played so many great teams on our schedule. Obviously, we’re playing the defending national champions.”
The last time Maryland was a No. 4 seed was in 2014, and the Terps actually beat top-seeded Tennessee on their way to making the Final Four. They’re hoping for a repeat of that now, and they have reasons to think they have a shot. Maryland appears as healthy as it’s been all season, and in the second round, the Terrapins turned aside Florida Gulf Coast’s upset bid in an 89-65 blowout.
Maryland finally looked like the team that was ranked fourth in the country at the start of the season – the one with a talented, experienced core of returning players.
“A healthy Maryland is a scary Maryland, I think,” the Terrapins’ Angel Reese said. “This is the team everybody wanted to see.”
The Terps played a schedule befitting a team with high expectations early this season, but they weren’t at full strength. Standout guard Diamond Miller dealt with knee problems, and both she and guard Katie Benzan were out when Maryland lost 86-68 to Stanford at an event in the Bahamas in November. The Terps also lost to N.C. State two days before that.
In December, Maryland showed some of its potential when it played South Carolina tough in a 66-59 loss on the road, but the season was never all that easy for the Terps. They eventually lost their Big Ten Tournament opener to Indiana and barely received a high enough seed to host the first two rounds of the NCAAs.
They appeared refreshed after a two-week break, however, and routed both Delaware and FGCU.
“We finally see this team, finally coming together in March, with everyone being healthy,” Frese said. “Just having practice time together – it’s the most we’ve had all season long. Just peaking at the right time.”
Frese is trying to look to the past for inspiration. In 2006, when Maryland won the national title, it had to beat defending champion Baylor in the Sweet 16. The task this year is similar.
Since 2015, the Terps have been the lower-seeded team only once in 19 NCAA Tournament games. That was in 2018, when fifth-seeded Maryland lost in the second round to fourth-seeded N.C. State.
Stanford is a formidable opponent this time around, but at least now, the Terps have a sense of how high their own ceiling could be – and the confidence that they might be able to reach it after all.
“We’ve played three of the No. 1 seeds, including Stanford early in the preseason, where we were a different team,” Frese said. “We have all kinds of confidence now, just having gone through so much, learning some really great lessons.”