Don't be fooled by the seeding. Though fifth-ranked Maryland claimed the No. 2 seed in the Raleigh region, the Terps are calling themselves the underdogs in Sunday's Sweet Sixteen matchup against third-seeded Texas A&M.
"A lot of people don't have faith in us. I honestly believe that," senior center Lynetta Kizer said. "They're defending national champs. I'm pretty sure people are going to pick that over a No. 2 seed, No. 5 [ranking]."
For a 30-4 Maryland team that had its hottest start since the 2006 national championship team, earned the second seed just like the 2006 Terps and even ran into an assistant coach from the 2006 season in the second round, facing a defending national champion is just one more parallel between the 2006 Terps and the current squad.
In 2006, it was Baylor in the Sweet Sixteen. Just like that season, the Terps are playing with a chip on their shoulder, saying no one believes they can make it all the way.
"The target is definitely on them," guard Laurin Mincy said. "I know a lot of people don't have faith in us, but we're going to come and play strong with a lot of energy for 40 minutes and just give it all we got."
Coach Brenda Frese, who has led the Terps to four Sweet Sixteens, three Elite Eights and the national championship, said she notices the similarities. In fact, she pointed out that the 2006 Terps also faced a defending national champion before reporters could. She, however, sees the current team as a new chapter.
"What's so satisfying this time around is to be taking a new team," Frese said. "When you talk about 2006 and the championship and the run that we had, to turn your entire roster over and take a completely new team, for us to be able to do it again is really satisfying."
The Aggies will bring the heat defensively with full-court presses similar to that of Miami, Georgia Tech and - most recently - Louisville. Maryland can look to those games as a model, but Frese and the second-ranked rebounding team don't have to look further than the mirror to see the similarities on the offensive glass. Shutting down the Aggies, who led the Big 12 in offensive rebounding, starts with the boards.
"We want to eliminate everyone from getting to the offensive glass," forward Tianna Hawkins said. "We need to do what we do best, which is rebound, run and defend. I think if we do those three things, we'll do well."
The Aggies also dress five returning seniors from the championship team, yet another obstacle for the Terps, who have shown youthful jitters at times in the tournament. But don't tell Kizer the maturity makes the Aggies shoo-ins for the Elite Eight.
"I think that people will kind of take that experience over us, but we're hungry," Kizer said. "We're hungry and we're ready to make our run in this tournament."
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