Maryland women’s basketball coach Brenda Frese started Tuesday’s practice with a spot-up shooting drill.
While shooting has always been important for the Terps, it’s taken on added importance with a new cast of contributors this season.
After the graduation of sharpshooting guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, the improvement of her former understudies — such as guards Blair Watson and Kristen Confroy — has helped Maryland win five straight games. The No. 15 Terps will try to continue their hot shooting Wednesday against Mount St. Mary’s.
“Going into this season, obviously graduating two top-10 WNBA picks, we knew we were going to have to pick up some scoring,” Confroy said. “Being a senior, I knew I was capable of stepping into that role and really looking to embrace that and be as efficient as possible.”
Walker-Kimbrough and center Brionna Jones went No. 6 and No. 8, respectively, in the 2017 WNBA Draft. They combined to account for nearly 40 points per game last season. Jones’ success came in the post, but Walker-Kimbrough was the team’s best shooter at 45 percent from long range.
Behind Walker-Kimbrough, Maryland shot 37.4 percent from three last season. Despite her absence, the Terps (7-2) have nearly kept up that pace at 36 percent through nine contests this year.
And that’s without transfer guard Eleanna Christinaki, who averaged more than a 3-pointer per game last season at Florida. She’ll be expected to add some shooting touch when she is eligible on Dec. 20.
So far, the spot Walker-Kimbrough left behind has been filled by committee. Confroy and Watson have taken the bulk of Maryland’s 3-pointers, making 45.7 and 38.8 percent, respectively.
“It’s pretty exciting because it’s such a big role to fill,” Watson said. “There’s multiple people on this team expecting me and Kristen to fill that and I think every day in practice we’re just, like, hoping to strive to be just like Shatori too.”
Confroy has improved her 3-point shooting by seven percentage points compared to last season, an uptick she attributed to expanded opportunities following Walker-Kimbrough and Jones’ graduations.
Watson, meanwhile, has transitioned from a bench player to a full-time starter. The sophomore was recovering from shoulder surgery entering her freshman season, which Frese said held her back.
But after becoming a key member of the starting lineup, Watson has burgeoned into a reliable scorer. She said the confidence instilled in her from Frese and her teammates has driven her progress this season.
“Blair Watson has really come out with a huge amount of confidence for us,” Frese said. “When you talk about her shooting the ball, the way she is, Kristen and Channise [Lewis], it’s just that ability … I think everybody has improved in that area, so it’s made a big difference.”
The Terps’ shooters have also been helped by play down low. Though, as Confroy described, they don’t have Jones to “draw two or three defenders alone” and kick a pass out, their ability to slash into the lane has opened things up for guards on the perimeter.
Guards Kaila Charles and Ieshia Small and forwards Brianna Fraser and Stephanie Jones are all adept at driving. Confroy and Frese said they all know to look for open players at the 3-point line.
That’s helped the Terps in their recent stretch. Against Mount St. Mary’s (1-6), they’ll look to continue their approach from long range.
“We’re important but everyone else on the team is important as well,” Watson said. “To be able to give that spark and give that drive is something that we really look for and just keep knocking down shots, it’s something that we’re really striving to do.”