Maryland strives to stay perfect under Frese in NCAA openers
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — There is no such thing as one and done in the NCAA Tournament for Maryland coach Brenda Frese, who is 14-0 in first-round games with the Terrapins.
That does not bode well for No. 14 seed Radford, the Big South champion and Maryland’s opponent Saturday on the Terps’ home floor.
In the other tournament opener in College Park, No. 6 seed UCLA (20-12) faces Tennessee (19-12).
This will be Maryland’s ninth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament and 15th in 17 years under Frese, who also won a first-round game at Minnesota in 2002. On those rare occasions when the Terps open on the road, Frese never packs for just one night.
Under Frese, the Terrapins have reached the round of 16 eight times, the round of eight six times and three Final Fours — winning the 2006 championship.
“What Brenda has done is nothing short of remarkable,” Radford coach Mike McGuire said Friday. “She has a program that’s won a national championship. I think that’s her expectation every year. That’s how they work, that’s how they recruit.”
Maryland’s success in openers can be attributed greatly to receiving a high seed. In addition, Frese won’t let her players take the opposition lightly, even a Radford team that’s never won an NCAA Tournament game.
“We obviously are trying to secure the best seed possible. You know, that helps you with your matchups,” Frese said. “But it is a mentality for us. We take ownership that every team we play is the best team we’ve faced.”
Despite starting two freshman and carrying just one senior (reserve Brianna Fraser), the ninth-ranked Terrapins (28-4) peeled off winning streaks of 12 and eight games, won the Big Ten regular-season title and reached the conference championship game. With Frese in charge, Maryland never seems to be in rebuilding mode.
“For her to have a top-5, top-10 program every year is not an easy thing to do,” McGuire said. “A lot of people don’t understand how hard it is to win and win at a high level. We understand how it is to win a conference tournament championship. She’s trying to do things above and beyond that, and she’s in the mix every year.”
Some things to know about the first-round games in College Park:
IT’S BEEN A WHILE
Not one player on Radford’s roster was alive when the Highlanders last reached the NCAA Tournament. That was in 1996.
“It’s been a special week,” McGuire said. “I’m proud of the ladies. They’ve put in an exceptional amount of work and time to make this program competitive again and compete for championships. And to see this group finally get to this stage and have this opportunity with all they’ve accomplished is incredible.”
As a reward for earning the sixth seed in the Albany Region, UCLA finds itself competing against the winningest women’s program in Division I history, Tennessee, which reached the NCAA Tournament for the 38th year in a row. The Lady Vols are a No. 11 seed.
“You should have seen our players’ faces,” coach Cori Close said. “There was a shock moment. It was like: ‘Wow, welcome to getting an upper-hand seed. You get Tennessee.'”
This isn’t a typical Lady Vols team. Tennessee lost six straight at one point and finished 7-9 in the Southeastern Conference.
“Their record is not reflective of their talent as well as their capability as a team,” Close insisted.
THE TIMING IS OFF
Maryland’s 11 o’clock start clashes with the noon tipoff of the men’s second-round game against LSU in Jacksonville, Florida.
“In an ideal world, you wouldn’t love to have that overlap,” Frese said. “But I know the passionate fans we have for our team and our program will continue to come out and support.”
After struggling through the SEC regular season and losing in the second round of the conference tournament, Tennessee has one last shot to get it right.
“This is a third chance for us,” coach Holly Warlick said. “To have this opportunity has given us another life.”
Although the Vols are a mainstay in the NCAA Tournament, this week has been a treat for the players.
“We’re four sophomores and four freshmen, so this is new to us,” Warlick said. “Now it’s up to us to go out and do what we need to do.”