For most of this season, Maryland women’s basketball has had to constantly make a bet. With Diamond Miller’s injury, coach Brenda Frese decided to replace her with a big rather than a guard. She wagered the size and talent a frontcourt of Chloe Bibby, Mimi Collins and Angel Reese provided would outweigh any potential shooting concerns.
The bet largely worked out for the Terps, who threaded their way through a thorny early-season slate with a 12-4 record that places them third in the Big Ten and in the AP Poll top 10.
But it was a bet that caused displacement, forcing Bibby, who played power forward between Miller and Reese last season, to slide up to the small forward position.
“Chloe’s been so selfless, just being positionless to help this team all season long,” Frese said.
Selflessness comes with sacrifice. For Bibby, that sacrifice was with her efficiency.
Her effective field goal percentage, the shooting percentage that takes the value of three-pointers into account, dropped from 54 percent last season (89th percentile) to 50.7 percent (76th percentile), according to Her Hoop Stats.
One of Bibby’s strengths last year was her ability to take care of the ball, with a turnover rate at 7.3 percent that placed her 20th in the nation. This year, that’s more than doubled to 15 percent, dropping her to 818th in the country.
Bibby said she was comfortable at both forward spots, but the change in position, combined with playing alongside Reese and Collins after not having done so most of last year, forced her to adjust.
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“It’s pretty much like adding some new players,” Bibby said. “It was just learning to play through one another in those different positions and the different aspects that people can bring when they’re our [small forward] or they’re our [power forward].”
Through conversations in practice, the trio learned each other’s tendencies and adapted to playing together. At small forward, Bibby focused on looking inside every time she came off an on-ball screen to see if either of those two post players had good positioning down low.
“Those posts are working super hard. They set you a great screen and so if they’re open sometimes their shot, that’s a better shot. That’s a layup, that’s 70 percent,” Bibby said. “So it’s just having the basketball IQ to see that.”
With Miller back in the starting lineup, Maryland can roll out the lineup that tormented the Big Ten last year, with either Collins or Reese to plug in the center spot. Doing so puts Bibby at power forward and opens up the entire floor.
“She’s a really difficult matchup on the pick and pop,” Frese said after Bibby scored 23 on 9-of-12 shooting against Minnesota, by far her best game of the season.
Despite where she catches the ball on those plays, Bibby’s three-point shooting percentage is the worst it’s been for her entire college career at 28.3 percent. She’s taking the least number of threes per game since her freshman year at Mississippi State over four seasons ago — a drop she attributes to increased scouting.
“I’ve been in the Big Ten for a year now,” Bibby said. “So they’re aware that I can shoot the three and they want to take that away a lot of the time, which is completely fine with me because I’ll just go to the rim and get a bucket another way or pass to one of my teammates.”
[Diamond Miller and Ashley Owusu power Maryland women’s basketball past Penn State, 106-78]
She did exactly that against the Golden Gophers. She pump-faked after catching a Miller feed on the right wing and using the angle generated on the closeout to drive and score a layup while getting fouled.
The versatility and adaptability Bibby’s shown give Frese options.
She can play Bibby and Collins, who formed Maryland’s post duo for most of last year. The pair are experts at running a double pick and roll with Ashley Owusu — a play where both posts screen for their guard with Collins rolls to the rim and Bibby either pops out to the perimeter or crashes down low for a second-chance opportunity.
Frese can replace Collins with Reese, in which case the team goes to a pure spread pick and roll, with Miller, Katie Benzan, and Bibby spacing the floor to give the Owusu-Reese duo room to operate
And if need be, she can make that early-season bet once again, putting a gargantuan lineup of Owusu, Miller, Bibby, Collins, and Reese out there to smother teams with size.
“That’s still something that we’re able to do if we need to go big,” Bibby said. “I think Coach B has confidence in all of us and we’re pushing the needle further … it’s making us a better team.”