(AP) – Maryland’s reward for going unbeaten in its first Big Ten season is a No. 1 seed in the Spokane Region of the NCAA Tournament.
The Terrapins (30-2) won their final 24 games, including 21 in a row against conference foes, to become a top seed for the fourth time in school history.
”I think it shows we had a really consistent season, when you go undefeated and win your conference tournament,” coach Brenda Frese said. ”At this point now, none of it matters. But it’s nice to have Maryland recognized as a No. 1 seed.”
It will be the fifth straight tournament appearance for the Terrapins, who reached the Final Four last year. Maryland hopes to go farther this season with a team that lacks star power but has four players averaging double figures in scoring.
”It’s very special that we have a No. 1 seed,” senior Laurin Mincy said. ”But we’re going to come into game being hungry and humble. We got to the Final Four last year, but we want to do better.”
Maryland will be riding a huge wave of momentum when it opens the tournament at home Saturday against New Mexico State (22-7), making its first appearance in the tournament since 1988.
If the Terrapins win, they will host unbeaten Princeton or Green Bay on Monday. The Tigers (30-0) are the only women’s team to enter the tournament undefeated.
The bracket also includes potential matchups against Duke and Tennessee.
Should Maryland advance to the Final Four, it could face Connecticut, the top seed in the Albany Region. Notre Dame and South Carolina are the top seeds in the other half of the bracket.
”It’s a great bracket that we’re in,” Mincy acknowledged.
It’s been a magical season for the Terrapins, who lost All-American Alyssa Thomas before embarking on their first foray into the Big Ten. After becoming only the third women’s team in conference history to go unbeaten in league play – the first since Purdue in 1998-99 – the Terrapins breezed through the Big Ten tournament.
And now, they’re making their 11th NCAA Tournament appearance under Frese, who has twice led Maryland to the Final Four and won the championship in 2006.
It certainly helps to have the first two games at home, where the Terrapins went 15-0 this season.
Maryland is 12-2 at home during the NCAA Tournament. A year ago, two wins on their own floor served as a starting point to the Terrapins’ run to the Final Four.
”I remember last year we had a tough game against Texas, and I feel like we wouldn’t have won if we didn’t have the crowd behind us,” guard Lexie Brown said. ”It’s definitely an advantage.”
Maryland’s last defeat came against Notre Dame on Dec. 3, which followed a loss to Washington State. Instead of recoiling, the Terps flourished.
”After that, I knew it was going to be a special year,” center Brionna Jones said. ”How we responded to those two losses shows a lot about our team, how hard we want to work and what we want to accomplish.”
Only one women’s 16th seed beat a No. 1 – Harvard over Stanford in 1998. New Mexico State, which started 0-5 but is 22-2 since, will try to duplicate that.
”We’ve quoted `Miracle on Ice’ and quoted `Hoosiers,’ the same things everybody else does,” coach Mark Trakh said. ”Somebody asked me, `If you win the game, how big would it be?’ I said, `Well, 20 years from now, they’ll make a movie, `Miracle on Hardwood.”’
The Western Athletic Conference champion Aggies have four players averaging in double figures, led by junior guard Sasha Weber’s 15.0 per game.