The strongest shooters on the Maryland women’s basketball team all echo the same mentality — shoot, keep shooting and shoot some more. Guard Blair Watson is no different. She doesn’t say no to an open opportunity, letting fly and often splashing 3-pointers from the right corner, her favorite spot.
But last season, as she recovered from an ACL tear suffered in January 2018, her jumpers weren’t falling as frequently. The imprecision derailed what was a breakout sophomore campaign, in which she averaged 13.8 points on 44.1 percent shooting from behind the arc in 17 games.
While she played in all 34 contests as a junior, Watson wasn’t quite the same player. Her scoring average and three-point shooting percentage dropped by 5.5 and 8 percent, respectively. And after the Terps’ highly ranked recruiting class joined the team this past summer, she found herself out of a starting lineup she’d been part of in 49 of her previous 51 contests.
So, like all great shooters, she stayed the course in hopes the ball would bounce her way once more.
“I was kind of just like, ‘I got to keep working,” Watson said. “That’s the only thing I can do.”
[Read more: No. 9 Maryland women’s basketball imposes its will in dominating 90-26 win over Belmont]
The New Jersey native didn’t play in her team’s blowout season-opening win over Wagner, but after Maryland looked shaky in a loss to South Carolina and a narrow victory against James Madison that required a 21-point fourth quarter comeback, coach Brenda Frese inserted Watson and forward Shakira Austin into the starting five.
Watson shined in her first start, scoring 12 points with three triples and two steals in a convincing win against Delaware, and the team has dominated each opponent ever since.
The senior’s long-range shooting looks like it did two seasons ago, hitting a career-high 44.7 percent on 3-pointers through seven games. But her defense has been her most valuable contribution. She executes the team’s full-court trap better than anyone and can guard multiple positions, with her 2.1 steals per game often leading to easy points.
“Just the experience on defense, first and foremost, she’s really just allowing us to play the way we need to,” Frese said. “I think she’s playing some of her most complete basketball when you talk about her defense, her shooting the ball, her assists, just making the right plays, which we need to continue to have.”
[Read more: No. 9 Maryland women’s basketball uses aggressive defense to top Clemson, 63-44]
Watson’s dependable defense and shooting has helped the Terps to six straight wins. In the last five, they’ve forced an average of 26 turnovers and had a 43.2 point margin of victory.
She’s only getting more comfortable and played her best two games of the season in the Daytona Beach Invitational. There, she averaged 14.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.5 steals and shot 57 percent, earning the senior her first career weekly honor Monday when she was named to the Big Ten Player of the Week Honor Roll.
“I say my defense is what really fuels my offense, so when I was out there and I was getting steals I was playing with my team I’m like, ‘All right, every time they kick me the ball I’m going to let it fly,’” Watson said. “That kind of just built up my confidence and every time I got the ball I was just letting it go and it was going in so I was like, “All right, might as well keep shooting.’”
After hitting all three of her long-range attempts in the team’s most recent 90-26 win over Belmont, Watson moved up to seventh on Maryland’s all-time 3-pointers list and is currently on pace to finish second.
In the meantime, she’s focused on helping develop talented newcomers such as guard Ashley Owusu, supporting guard Zoe Young through her torn ACL recovery and playing lockdown defense whenever on the floor.
She and her team look to neutralize a talented No. 13 NC State team when they travel to Raleigh for their second ranked matchup of the season. The Wolfpack knocked the Terps out of the NCAA tournament in their last meeting, a game Watson watched from the bench while nursing her knee injury.
“Her confidence and her defense [make her special],” Owusu said. “She’s one of our best defenders and every night she comes out and gives her best.”