At its best, a basketball defense turns five players into one. Regardless of scheme or talent fit, the greatest defenses move with each other, communicating like synapses from the brain do with the rest of the body.
Those communications are wide-ranging for a defense, and they can be anything from a simple switch on a pick-and-roll to a quick series of rotations to prevent an easy shot.
At its best, Maryland women’s basketball can do all of those.
In the second quarter of the Terps’ wire-to-wire 98-45 victory over Mount St. Mary’s, their defense lived up to that billing. In the frame, coach Brenda Frese’s squad gave up just four points on 12.5 percent shooting, forced eight turnovers and held the Mountaineers scoreless for more than seven minutes.
“We kind of came out flat in the first quarter with our defense, so we were just talking in the huddles and timeouts,” guard Ashley Owusu said. “Talking to one another, saying we got to pick up our defensive intensity.”
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Maryland’s effort was apparent from the first possession of the quarter. It started with Diamond Miller and Chloe Bibby, who seamlessly switched an off-ball action. Now guarding Kendall Bresee, the Mountaineers’ chief offensive threat, Miller bumped the ball away, digging into the shot clock.
From there, Miller executed another switch with forward Mimi Collins. Miller didn’t fully commit to tracking the other Mountaineer in the vicinity, forward Isabella Hunt. Instead, she split the distance between Hunt and Bresee to help Collins on the eventual Bresee drive.
As Bresee went to the hoop, Miller stepped up to cut her off, forcing the Mountaineer guard to throw a skip pass from the right elbow to the left corner. She’d executed a similar pass in the first quarter, leading to an open three pointer, but this time she threw right in the hands of Bibby — one of eight turnovers the Terps forced in the quarter.
“We settled in. I thought there was some anxiousness to start, which is normal,” Frese said. “You’re playing in a massive arena right now, so I thought once we settled in and then you saw it … there weren’t as many open looks, open threes.”
Bresee, who came into the game leading Mount St. Mary’s in scoring, struggled against the Terps’ defense. She missed all ten of her field goal attempts and turned the ball over seven times.
Though much of Maryland’s success comes from a sound scheme and effective communication, the defensive unit is teeming with individual talents, too.
On one occasion, Miller was matched up with Hunt in the post. Not wanting to jump in and risk a foul, Miller threw her hands straight up in the air, blocking Hunt’s view of the basket. That was all she needed to do.
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Hunt’s feeble layup attempt barely reached the height of the net before falling into Miller’s arms.
There were more defensive efforts, too. Alaysia Styles tallied three steals throughout that dominant second quarter, with the third resulting in a jumper that pushed Maryland’s lead north of 30 for the first time — and the gap would only widen.
The Terps’ offense is so dominant that it hasn’t had to lean on its defensive efforts too much this season. But as Maryland goes deeper into the NCAA tournament, showings such as that of the second quarter Monday will only become more important.
And for the Terps to prove their defensive mettle, they just have to operate as one cohesive unit.
“The media has been talking about how we’re so offensive heavy but our defense is maybe a little iffy,” Owusu said. “We want to come out and show them that we can play defense.”