Brenda Frese’s blurry face remained motionless on the screen, as spotty internet connection cut the coach’s answer off during Thursday afternoon’s virtual press conference. 

Only every other word she said made it through, an indecipherable mix of syllables that abruptly cut into silence as the coach momentarily left the call.

After a few seconds of awkward quiet, Angel Reese stepped up and answered the question about Maryland women’s basketball’s journey since last year’s loss in the Sweet 16. 

Although a fairly mundane moment in the era of Zoom press conferences, Reese’s lack of hesitation and confidence was just another reminder of the sophomore’s place in the Terps’ program: at the front. 

“Being able to have such a tough schedule that we went through in the beginning of the season… I think that honestly prepared us for this moment,” Reese said. “We have that feeling of last year’s Sweet 16 that we don’t want to feel again.”

[Best versions of Miller and Owusu propel Maryland women’s basketball to Sweet 16]

If Reese and Maryland want to avoid last season’s disappointment, it’ll have to take down the defending national champion, Stanford, a team that’s followed up a title run with a similarly dominant campaign.  

The Cardinal is 30-3, won the Pac-12 regular and postseason championships and defeated their first two NCAA tournament opponents by an average margin of 33.5 points. 

One of those wins came in late November against a hobbled Terps squad that slogged through an 18-point loss in the Bahamas without Katie Benzan, Faith Masonius and Diamond Miller.

Reese struggled mightily in that game, playing just 15 minutes before fouling out and shooting a dismal 2-of-13 from the field. Earlier in the season, Frese attributed the sophomore’s foul trouble to fatigue, which played a huge role in a game where the Terps only had five members of their regular rotation available. 

“Looking back, when you talk about Stanford almost four months ago in November, we’re a different team.” Frese said.

Maryland is still missing pieces such as Masonius and Channise Lewis, but the squad is healthier now, boasting a rotation that should help Reese stay fresh on the court. The sophomore also feels she personally is better equipped to deal with the challenge of staying on the floor.

“I’ve gotten in much better shape than [last] time,” Reese said. “When I am tired, I tell the coaches… I need a breather, and they’ll get me right back in after I get a break.”

She’s also gotten better at feeling out the game. As the season’s gone on, Reese’s ability to use the first few possessions of the game to gauge how the referees are calling the game has improved, and it’s a skill that’s helped her stay in games. 

[Maryland women’s basketball books spot in Sweet 16, moves past FGCU, 89-65]

Reese will need that against the Cardinal. 

While Maryland isn’t the same team it was in the Bahamas, neither is Stanford. Cameron Brink, a Naismith Trophy semifinalist, only played nine minutes in that contest after appearing sick pregame.

Brink averages four free throw attempts per game, making it imperative for Reese to strike a delicate balance between avoiding fouls, maintaining her stellar level of defense and continuing to produce for the Terps on offense.

If she can do that, it could be a special night on a national stage for a player who’s stepping comfortably into her role at Maryland.

“I’ve been saying healthy Maryland is a scary Maryland,” Reese said. “Having this team together at this perfect moment at the Sweet 16 again, I think it’s just going to be so much fun.”