With about two minutes remaining in the first half against UMBC, Maryland women’s basketball forward Shakira Austin picked up her second foul, prompting coach Brenda Frese to withdraw the freshman for the final player off the team’s bench.
Having played just 19 minutes in three appearances entering Sunday, center Olivia Owens got the call. And on her first possession, she scored a wide-open layup under the basket.
Owens was the 10th different Terp to score during the period, as Maryland used every player from its bench in a 92-61 trouncing of the Retrievers.
After getting 45 points from substitutes on Sunday, Frese wants the rotation to remain deep as the team nears conference play.
“We have to extend our bench play,” Frese said. “As we continue to gain more valuable minutes, and understanding as competition gets greater … it’s critical to our success.”
[Read more: No. 7 Maryland women’s basketball blows out UMBC, 92-61]
When the starters stumbled out of the gate to start the second half, Frese relied on the bench to make an impact.
The coach was displeased with her starters’ lack of energy taking the floor after holding a 28-point lead at the break — the third contest in a row the Terps came out of the intermission sluggish. So she called a 30-second timeout and pulled four of the five starters off the floor. Only guard Taylor Mikesell remained.
The bench countered with a 17-3 run, highlighted by an eight-point burst from guard Sara Vujacic, who hadn’t scored since the season opener against Coppin State. She finished with a career-high 13 points.
Substitutes extended the Maryland lead to 34 and wiped out any hopes the Retrievers had of narrowing the deficit even further.
“I thought we got a lot of valuable minutes today from the bench,” Frese said. “Being able to have every player come in an score and really be able to extend the lead.”
[Read more: Maryland women’s basketball overcomes disastrous 3rd quarter to beat Georgia Tech, 67-54]
Coming into the UMBC game, the Terps had relied on a six-player rotation.
Only six players average at least 20 minutes a contest, and forward Brianna Fraser, who started the first two games, has seen her minutes dwindle in recent weeks. She averaged just nine minutes per game in the four games leading into Sunday, with Maryland’s rotation becoming tighter since beating then-No. 10 South Carolina.
Against the Gamecocks, only six players were on the floor for more than six minutes. Austin’s 30-minute shift was the highest logged off the bench. Facing stiff competition, Frese leaned on the players she knew would make a significant impact in a hostile environment.
The Terps found success with a completely different formula against the Retrievers, a team outmatched at Xfinity Center.
Four bench players logged at least 17 minutes, and three of the four leaders in playing time — Austin, Vujacic and guard Sarah Myers — were substitutes.
The balanced attack worked, and the plethora of weapons were difficult for UMBC to defend against. Maryland used its 7-for-14 three-point effort to open up space on the inside, where the Terps converted 50 points in the paint.
Against UMBC, the Terps’ bench went from a liability in previous contests to the team’s foremost weapon. And with the physical Big Ten slate less than a month away, Sunday could provide the bench with valuable experience as the competition ramps up.
“It helps [the bench] get more experience, just playing and getting a feel for the flow of the game,” forward Stephanie Jones said. “Getting reps playing Maryland basketball before we get into Big Ten play.”