Pressure Doesn’t Get To Terrapins

Everything negative - pressure,Pressure Filled

When pressure comes, some rise to the occasion and some crumble. Tonight at the Spokane Arena before a crowd of 5,023, the Maryland Terrapins and Tennessee Volunteers rose to the occasion. Despite Maryland’s 58-48 win, it would be a disservice to say that Tennessee did not rise up. 
They did. 

It wasn’t until a late Terrapin run that Maryland secured the Elite 8 victory and a trip to Tampa. For the better part of the game, it was a game of runs. Every time Tennessee would make a run, Maryland would adjust and make their own run to retake the lead. And vice versa. Maryland’s Brene Moseley, “One thing that is special about this team is that we figure it out during the game. We jut had to grind it out.”

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About that flow

The threes that were falling for the Lady Vols on Saturday against Gonzaga weren’t falling tonight. They went 4-22 from three for an 18% shooting percentage. Even from inside the arc, there were some clean looks that just didn’t seem to fall for Tennessee. “The ball just wouldn’t drop. We let the ball get stuck in our hand a couple of times and I had a lot of turnovers. (We) just couldn’t get in a flow,” said Tennessee senior Cierra Burdick.

That “flow” was disrupted by the pressure from Maryland’s guards. “We would fall down and then they would kick it out to the open player and hit a three,” said Lady Vols Coach Holly Warlick. “They hit big baskets when they needed to. That’s what great guards do. Big time players hit big time shots. And, they did.” 

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It wasn’t just the shots that were falling. Key rebounds by Maryland sophomore Brionna Jones came at opportune moments for the Terrapins throughout the game. Said Jones, “I think we just tried to get it inside out first. We just tried to work it in the paint in the first half and then we kicked it out in the second half.”

Early on, the pressure of Tennessee’s defense and the importance of the game seemed to get to Maryland. Coach Brenda Frese, “I thought that early in the game we were putting too much pressure on ourselves to be able to get back (to the Final Four). I felt our wiring was just – we were trying to play too flawless and as a result it was a really ugly game.” 

Terrapins Adjust to the Pressure

When pressure comes, however, it requires adjustments — including getting stops and those key  rebounds. “I thought we settled down in the second half and started really getting stops and rebounds,” said Coach Frese. And, players like star guard, Lexie Brown stepped up. “I just thought that I needed to bring more energy (than Saturday). Not even just the scoring end. I needed to bring my presence to the court in this game. They needed me to score in the second half so I took that upon myself – put the team on my back,” said Brown. 

Photo courtesy- Myk Crawford - (1)

Challenge accepted by Maryland. Brown and her Terrapin teammates didn’t succumb to the pressure tonight. This challenge, at least, has been met. They’ll enjoy the win tonight and on the long flight home from Spokane tomorrow. 

Then, it’s on to the next challenge. 

UConn. 

For more photos from Myk Crawford, please visit his website here.

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No Time to Let-Up for Terps, Lady Vols

Hello Again

Familiarity breeds contempt. 

Or, so the saying goes. 

If there is such a thing as respectful contempt, it should be on full display tomorrow night at the Spokane Arena. The Maryland Terrapins and Tennessee Volunteers will play in the Spokane Regional final of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. 

Two elite programs with a final four bid on the line is enough to bring out a little contempt. Contempt because the other stands in the way for a trip to Tampa, Florida. “It’s going to be a dogfight,” said Maryland’s Shatori Walker-Kimbrough. 

Dogfight. Battle royal. Rumble. Pick the word and that will describe tomorrow night’s regional final. “We just want to take care of business, one day at a time. Right now, it’s a prep day, so we’re focused on preparing for Maryland. We have a great opportunity in front of us. This is what we have been working for all season,” said Tennessee’s Cierra Burdick. 

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All season for one game

All season comes down to one game tomorrow night. Last night’s victories were all about survive and advance. That’s what teams have to do in the NCAA tournament. But, tomorrow, the key will be focus. “It is such a fun time of the year with the tournament. You survive and you advance and it has been fun,” said Tennessee freshman, Jaime Nared. “I think if we play to the best of our abilities and focus on what we have been focusing on the whole year, we will be great. If we focus I think we will be okay.” 

Focus on the court means proper preparation was done beforehand. “We have always prepared our team in regards to getting ourselves ready and in terms of playing our best basketball,” Maryland Coach Brenda Frese said.

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Reversal of 2014

The roles are reversed for these two teams this year. Terrapins are the #1 seed in the Spokane Regional while Tennessee is the #2 seed. In 2014, Tennessee was in the #1 role. Coach Frese and her #4 seeded Terps came out on top, 73-62, in a Sweet Sixteen game.

That was last year with a completely different team. “They’re two different teams, two different seasons and two different rosters,” says Coach Frese. “For us, it’s been about just coming out and playing our best game. So, that win last year doesn’t guarantee us anything moving forward.” Tennessee’s Coach Warlick agrees, “I think they lost their All-American (from last year), but I don’t think they have missed a beat. As they relied on their All-American last year, I think they’re just spreading the ball out more and more people are involved.” 

Last year is in the rear-view mirror. As are last night’s games. What will happen between Maryland and Tennessee tomorrow night could be one for the ages. 

With a trip to Tampa on the line, it’s a time to lay it all out on the court. 

Or, so the saying goes. 

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Terps, Lady Vols Moving On In Spokane Regional

The last time I watched a women’s basketball game at the Spokane Arena, a gal named Jackie Stiles set the arena on fire. Stiles’ hot shooting brought the crowd to their feet in Spokane that weekend. It became a must-see event.

That was in 2001.

And, it would blaze the trail for women’s hoops events in Spokane. Events like the Spokane Regional semi-final and final this weekend. With names like Duke, Maryland, Tennessee and Gonzaga, it was sure to be a stellar weekend of basketball. 

And, for the semi-finals, it was indeed. 

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DUKE vs MARYLAND 

And the senior shall lead them.

Or maybe it’s a junior.

Or, a sophomore.

The Maryland Terrapins are moving on to the Elite 8 after their 65-55 over the Duke Blue Devils. In the first half, senior Laurin Mincy led the way for the Terrapins with 15 points. Her steadiness and confidence paced Maryland to a 31-23 lead at the half.

But, Mincy would be shut down by Duke after that. As the Blue Devils keyed on Mincy, Maryland sophomore Shatori Walker-Kimbrough took over. Walker-Kimbrough scored 18 of her 24 points in the second half. She was 10 for 15 shooting (2-2 from 3).

While Walker-Kimbrough was shooting lights out, junior Brene Moseley provided a spark off the bench. Moseley’s contribution won’t show up in the box score. Pushing the ball up the floor, driving and dishing as well as her tight defense helped restore confidence for the Terrapins as Duke was making their push. Coach Brenda Frese, “I think you were able to see our depth when we were able to call on Brene off the bench when Lexie was struggling in this game.”

Duke had no counter for Maryland’s depth. Senior Elizabeth Williams was a workhorse pouring in 18 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal in a 39-minute effort. Every time the Blue Devils needed a basket, Williams was there. Said Coach Joanne McCallie spoke about her All-American senior, “She’s been  a  rock. She’s truly the embodiment of what  a  student-athlete is all about. Not enough is written about that. I guess it’s not sexy enough. Premed, great  grades, a person who is doing all the right things.” 

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For Maryland, it was win #27…in a row. “It’s just taking one day and one game and one practice at a time. But, obviously, I’m extremely proud of this group. I thought they did a phenomenal job with the scout and just locking in to what we wanted to be able to do today,” said Coach Frese. 

Will they make it to #28 on Monday night? They’ll have to do it against a resilient Tennessee Volunteer team. 

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GONZAGA vs TENNESSEE

The number 27 is also a special number for the Lady Vols of Tennessee. Their 73-69 overtime win over the Gonzaga Bulldogs earned them their 27th trip to the Elite Eight. As sweet a victory as could be for Coach Holly Warlick and her Lady Vols team. “To date, this is the biggest victory for me and absolutely in the tournament. It is a sign of kids that are resilient and a great staff,” said Coach Warlick. 

The win came at the expense of another valiant effort by the Gonzaga Bulldogs. The Zags appeared to be on their way to ending their three-loss streak to Tennessee. With 6:34 left to go in the game, Gonzaga held a 17-point lead on the Spokane Region’s second seed. A stingy, high-pressure defense employed by Tennessee forced turnovers and shot-clock violations from a normally reliable Zag offense.

Senior Cierra Burdick, “We were down what, 17 at one point and we came back to win in overtime. I think that just goes to show that no matter how many punches you throw at us we’re going to continue to get up and we’re going to keep fighting. We never thought we were out of this game. That’s just Tennessee basketball. That’s our mindset.”

That mindset was never more evident than in the play of freshman Alexa Middleton. Much like Maryland’s Brene Moseley, Middleton’s contribution won’t show on the stat sheet. But, her defensive pressure on Gonzaga guard Georgia Stinton was a sign of the havoc to come for the Bulldogs. “Our goal today was to put pressure on the ball. We felt like we could affect them with ball pressure. Before Lex came in we didn’t. Andraya Carter did it a little bit but got in foul trouble. Lex came in and did exactly what we wanted her to do,” said Coach Warlick. 

A virtual home game for the Bulldogs did not intimidate the Lady Vols one bit. Freshman Jaime Nared, “It was just a great environment to be around. I was proud of everyone and it was game that I’ll remember  forever  because  of  how  hard everybody played. And, how we all came together when we were down by such a large amount.”

For the Gonzaga Bulldogs and first-year coach, Lisa Fortier, it was an achievement and a learning experience. “It’s a tough way to end the season. I realize that all but one coach has to come up here as  the team that didn’t win, but it’s tough with this group, especially my first year. I love these players and the way that they fought for each other and fought for us as a coaching staff this entire year, but especially the last couple of weeks.”

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And so, it will be the Big 10 versus the SEC on Monday night in Spokane. If these two regional semi-final games were any indication, it will be a physical battle between Maryland and Tennessee.  When a trip to Tampa and the Final Four is on the line, to borrow a cliché, it’s time to leave it all on the court. 

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