Undeterred by roster changes, Maryland women’s basketball pushes for another Big Ten title

Maryland women's basketball celebrates its Big Ten tournament championship after beating Ohio State, 82-65, on March, 8, 2020. (Julia Nikhinson/The Diamondback)

When Brenda Frese hoisted the Big Ten tournament trophy over her head, she was surrounded by a team filled with veteran players, including Kaila Charles, Taylor Mikesell and Shakira Austin. Maryland women’s basketball hugged and cheered amid the shower of confetti, elated with the title and eager to compete for a NCAA championship.

Eight months later, Frese is doing her press conferences on Zoom, with that celebration as her background. Her team doesn’t have Charles, Mikesell and Austin this time around, and it’s bringing back just three players from last year’s squad after an offseason that saw a great deal of change.

The Terps made some key additions over the summer, including forward/guard Angel Reese — the No. 2 recruit in the nation — and two graduate transfers. They join three guards from last year’s team, sophomores that showed a great deal of promise down the stretch of last season. Those new pieces have created optimism around a Maryland team that is currently ranked No. 12 nationally and expects to challenge for another title in the competitive Big Ten.

“I think when you sign up to come to Maryland, it’s about winning and championships,” Frese said. “You want to do it at the highest level.”

[Maryland women’s basketball opens season at No. 12 in preseason AP Poll]

Last year, the Terps were exceptionally well-rounded, ranking first in the Big Ten in points per game (82.8) and second in points allowed (57.0). However, the roster has seen several changes.

Austin, who led the team in blocked shots a year ago, and guard Blair Watson, who had the team’s highest number of steals, are both gone. But Frese thinks Reese is ready to fill those roles.

“Although I’m on Angel pretty hard for her defense, she’s actually ahead of Shakira defensively from where she was a year ago as a freshman,” Frese said. “I think that’s exciting, and although Angel has a long ways to go with her defense, she’s definitely going to be a great rim protector for us.”

Reese, the program’s highest-ranked recruit ever, comes in with a world of expectations. But she says she’s not too concerned.

“I know I am expected to do a lot,” Reese said. “I’m going to do whatever it takes to win and whatever I need to do, but I don’t really feel the pressure that much.”

Replacing Watson gets trickier. The guard was named to the Big Ten All-Defensive team a year ago after totaling 91 steals — good enough for second in the conference.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever have another Blair Watson,” Frese said.

Frese also noted the change in team members could mean a shift in team philosophy this season.

“I think every team does create its own identity, which we will find out here soon,” Frese said. “Early, this team has shown more of an offensive identity than a defensive identity, but it’s yet to be seen.”

Maryland has to replace four of their five leading scorers from a year ago, but Frese isn’t worried about recouping that offensive production.

“We have a tremendous amount of firepower,” Frese said.

[Maryland women’s basketball adds grad transfer Alaysia Styles]

Part of that firepower is Reese, who is looking to make her presence known inside the paint.

“I know I’m gonna have to make a big role this year, of course, we had a lot of great players that left last year in transfers,” Reese said. “I’m gonna have to score, but I know my rebounding ability is relentless and my winning competitiveness is relentless. It’s something that you really can’t teach.”

Reese isn’t the Terps’ only scoring option, though. Guard Ashley Owusu averaged 12.0 points and 5.4 assists per game en route to being named Big Ten Freshman of the Year last season. She’s one of those three sophomore guards that Frese was bullish on.

“Ashley, Diamond [Miller] and Faith [Masonius] have just made that jump that you expect to see from your freshman year to your sophomore year,” Frese said.

Maryland is also looking to be dangerous from behind the arc this year. The Terps brought in Katie Benzan from Harvard and Chloe Bibby from Mississippi State, both of whom have career three-point shooting percentages above 35 percent.

“I will say, Katie and Chloe, just how well they shoot the ball, it’s actually surprising how well they can shoot,” Miller said. “They’re both competitive, and I just love how we all play together. It’s gonna be fun to watch.”

That shooting will be key for Maryland’s offense, unlocking space down low.

“I think it’s the perfect complements,” Frese said. “When you talk about having knockdown shooters and that kind of range from Katie and Chloe, it’s been pretty special to be able to see.”

The Terps kick off their season on Nov. 27 in Estero, Florida, where they will play Davidson in the Beach Bubble tournament.

Although this current Maryland team looks very different from the one that hoisted that Big Ten title back in March, it’s armed with a reshaped identity, key newcomers and a few talented returners.

And it seems Frese’s squad is poised for another run at the conference crown.

“We’re healthy, we’re strong, we could play a game today,” Frese said. “We’re in the best shape and we’re looking forward to the season getting started.”

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