COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) To keep tabs on Texas-Maryland, look for the 6-foot-7 center whose hair matches the Longhorns’ uniforms.
At least until she dyes it again.
The Terrapins would love to see as little of Imani McGee-Stafford as possible when fourth-seeded Maryland hosts No. 5 seed Texas on Tuesday in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
That’s not a bad idea, considering the sophomore had 20 points and 12 rebounds in the Longhorns’ opening win over Penn.
”Our goal pretty much is to get Imani in foul trouble,” Maryland guard Lexie Brown said Monday. ”Our 3-ball is going to be so important because if they’re worried about us, we can get the ball inside and pound it in there and get her out of the game.”
McGee-Stafford was a bit taken back by such a declaration.
”Well, I’m flattered that I’m a target,” she said. ”But I’m not really sure that I’m the only thing they should be worried about.”
As if being tall and talented weren’t enough to draw attention, McGee-Stafford also catches the eye with her hair style, a temp fade which has its own back story.
”Last season I was known for having a big Afro,” she said. ”And in the summer I cut it off, and since I’ve cut it off I’ve changed my hair color, like, every month. So if we make it out of this round I’ll probably have a different hair color when we go to the Sweet 16.”
So what was her previous color?
”It was red,” interjected coach Karen Aston. ”We don’t really like red at Texas, so we got that changed pretty quick.”
Then there was a quick discussion about the current color. Aston said she thought it was burnt orange – to match the most prominent of the university’s official colors.
”I’m so Longhorn, my hair matches,” McGee-Stafford deadpanned.
Here are five other hair-raising tidbits about Tuesday’s game:
GET IT IN GEAR: It’s one thing to start slow against a heavy underdog from the Ivy League or the service academies, but neither Texas nor Maryland can much afford to stumble out of the gate the way the Longhorns did against Penn and the Terrapins did against Army in their first-round games.
Aston attributed Texas’ 15-point first-half deficit on Sunday to ”first-game jitters.”
”You can’t have any jitters in this round,” the coach said. ”That is no disrespect to Penn, because I really think Penn is a good team, but we’ll have to go from the tip. No question, we can’t have six or seven minutes of scoring drought and have possessions where we don’t feel like rebounding or we don’t get back on defense.”
GOING DEEP: If there is foul trouble, it won’t necessarily wreck the chances for either team. Maryland, for example, can call on a player such as Laurin Mincy, a stalwart defender who came off the bench to score 12 points against Army. Texas’ reserves include Brianna Taylor, a freshman who played a season-high 18 minutes against Penn.
”It’s kind of two teams that mirror each other,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said, ”when you talk about the depth that both teams have.”
HELPFUL TO BE HOME: The Terrapins are 17-3 in NCAA games at College Park, with the last loss coming to another fifth seed, Georgetown, in 2011.
”Having your fans is tremendous advantage,” Frese said. ”But we’ve hosted at home and been upset. Not too often, but it takes place all across the country.”
TEXAS-SIZE HANDOUTS: The Longhorns rank – gulp! – 297th among NCAA Division I teams in turnovers, averaging 18.3 per game. They committed 18 in the first round to push their season total to 605, about one-third more than Maryland’s 457.
”We’re going to have to really take care of the basketball,” said Aston, offering the understatement of the day. ”And that has been a challenge.”
SO LONG, ALYSSA: Alyssa Thomas is a three-time Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year, and on Sunday she passed Juan Dixon to become the Terrapins’ career leading scorer among men or women.
But, with one chance left to win a national championship, there’s no time to get sentimental about her final home game at Maryland.
”You can’t let the emotions get to you,” Thomas said.
As a relative newcomer, Brown was less shy about the game’s significance.
”It’s really important for us to win as a team,” the freshman said. ”But it’s even more important for us to win for the seniors.”
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