Standing in a back room at Comcast Center after the Maryland women’s basketball team’s most disheartening loss of the season to unranked Virginia Tech, reporters tapped their watches anxiously and stared at the empty podium at the front of the room.
Nearly 30 minutes had passed since the end of the Jan. 26 game, but coach Brenda Frese remained in the locker room with her players instead in front of a microphone, leaving so many questions unanswered.
Questions about late-game free-throw shooting and costly turnovers were on reporters’ notepads. But more pressing was one big-picture question: Who are the 2012 Terps and how good can they be?
Early indications were promising after Maryland began the season 16-0, the best start since the 2006 Terps team that won the national championship. But now, halfway through its ACC schedule, the team was at a crossroads after losing three out of five, including two in a row.
Finally, Frese and the team emerged. Taking a seat behind the microphone, senior center Lynetta Kizer held back the tears from her reddened eyes and laid it on the line: “This is a defining moment tonight. We’ve got to turn it around from here and play Maryland basketball.”
Maryland (25-4, 14-4 ACC) responded by winning seven of its final eight games. The push helped the Terps claim the third seed and a first-round bye in the ACC tournament this weekend in Greensboro, N.C. Maryland will play Friday night against the winner of Thursday’s Virginia-Boston College contest.
“Whoever we face in that first game is going to be a difficult match-up,” Frese said this week on a teleconference. “You’ve got to play 40 minutes like it could potentially be your last game. If you’re lucky and fortunate enough to advance, you’ve got to have the same mentality in the semis and then the championship.”
The Terps likely will have to go through No. 5 Duke and No. 7 Miami if they are to hoist the ACC trophy.
Miami swept Maryland in both meetings this season. The 76-74 nail-biter on Feb. 12 was Maryland’s lone loss in the second half of the ACC schedule. A week later, Maryland handed Duke its only ACC loss in another one-basket decision, 63-61.
“It reminds me of the year in 2006 when we had us, Duke and Carolina who were battling it out,” Frese said. “We didn’t even make it to the championship game or win an ACC title and then you go out and win a national championship. When you have Duke and Miami and us, three top 10 teams, you’re going to be in battles every night in conference play.”
Sophomore forward Alyssa Thomas, who Thursday was named ACC Player of the Year, and second team All-ACC sophomore forward Tianna Hawkins lead the Terps into the postseason. Thomas was tied for first in points per game in the ACC this season with 16.7, and Hawkins led the conference in rebounding with 9.5 per game. Earning All-ACC honorable mention were sophomore guard Laurin Mincy and Kizer.
Right on time and full of confidence heading into the ACC tournament, Frese echoed Kizer’s sentiment from a month earlier. She said playing without Thomas in the Virginia Tech loss was the “defining point of the season.”
“You really saw our team come together and take ownership for that game and for that loss. I think our team kind of grew up without having Alyssa in that game,” Frese said. “I really think that game is what’s motivated this team in terms of the bigger picture and where they wanted to get to.”