The nation’s top women’s basketball teams are getting a taste of the Caribbean this season, now that the coronavirus-related scheduling restrictions from last season are no longer in effect.
Six of the top seven teams in the Associated Press poll, including No. 2 Maryland, either just recently played in a tournament in the Bahamas or are getting ready to play games on the sunny Caribbean island — something that wasn’t possible last season.
The Terrapins will be one of four premier women’s hoops programs to be playing in the Baha Mar Hoops championship over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, alongside No. 4 Indiana, No. 5 N.C. State and No. 7 Stanford. Another Bahamas tournament just wrapped up earlier this week, with No. 1 South Carolina, No. 3 Connecticut and No. 15 Oregon competing.
Terrapins coach Brenda Frese said Sunday that these early-season games against fellow-top teams will be important both for her evaluations and for the team’s growth as it eyes a run in the NCAA Tournament. Last year, second-seeded Maryland was upset in the Sweet 16 by sixth-seeded Texas.
“Last year, we were only able to schedule five or six nonconference games,” she said, referencing the scheduling rules due to COVID. “I felt like with everyone coming back this year, I didn’t want to be surprised in March.”
Maryland plays N.C. State on Thursday and Stanford on Saturday, capping off undoubtedly the most challenging stretch of games in its schedule.
The Terrapins started this week with a 79-76 win over visiting No. 6 Baylor on Sunday.
Maryland was ranked No. 3 before the win, but after Connecticut’s loss to South Carolina in the Bahamas Monday, the Terrapins swapped places with the Huskies.
The win over Baylor, which improved the Terrapins to 6-0, was especially important considering the upcoming challenging contests. Losing the first game of a three-game stretch wouldn’t have been ideal for a team playing as many young players as the Terrapins. On the other hand, Frese said these games are preparation for March.
“It felt like we needed better competition to prepare us [last season],” Frese said after the win over Baylor. “For a lot of them, it was their first NCAA tournament, and we didn’t get as many of those games because of COVID and teams being out.”