One year ago, Brenda Frese stood at a podium on the floor of the Xfinity Center and discussed her team’s lack of size entering the 2022 season. With no true center and a lack of depth at the forward position, Maryland was unsure if it could hold up against more physical teams in the Big Ten.
On Thursday, the coach stood at the same podium with a different outlook, raving about how deep her 2023 roster is. This season, the Terps are filled with long, athletic players who make them one of the country’s most intriguing defensive teams.
“I think the sky’s the limit defensively,” Frese said.
Maryland finished eighth in the Big Ten in points allowed per game last season with 68.7. With a lack of height, the Terps struggled to rebound and prevent second-chance opportunities, finishing the season with a below average 66 percent defensive rebound rate, according to statistics provided by the team.
South Carolina bullied the Terps in that area during Maryland’s final loss of the season — the Gamecocks collected 25 offensive rebounds and finished with 22 more total rebounds than Maryland.
Frese expects that to change this year, in part because of the team’s newcomers. Jakia Brown-Turner, a transfer from NC State who averaged 4.6 rebounds per game in her junior season, will help on the defensive glass, Frese said. Additionally, players like Allie Kubek and Emma Chardon return from injuries that sidelined them last year, adding much-needed size to the frontcourt.
“I think we’ll be a better rebounding team this season; we were undersized last year, and all indications are that we definitely have taken a step in that direction,” Frese said.
Maryland’s strength defensively is perimeter length. Wing defenders like Lavender Briggs, Bri McDaniel and Brown-Turner all have long wingspans, allowing them to guard multiple positions and switch more frequently.
“When you’re switching, you definitely want to come together,” Brown-Turner said. “Say we come up on a ball screen, we want to drag the [opposing player] as far out past the three-point line as we can.”
Even for a veteran like Brown-Turner, Maryland’s scheme can be difficult to grasp. But for a freshman like Riley Nelson, she’s just trying not to drown in the Terps’ complex coverages, from their various zone looks to ball-screen defense.
“The most difficult thing is trying to learn the defense,” Nelson said.
Maryland has enough established defensive pieces to slowly integrate players like Nelson. Briggs was one of the Terps’ best defenders last year, Frese said. If coupled with McDaniel, the duo could make for one of the country’s best wing-defender pairings.
The added size will also allow players to guard their more natural positions. Brinae Alexander defended guards during her time at Vanderbilt, but spent some possessions last season guarding Aliyah Boston, the 6-foot-5 SEC player in Maryland’s loss to South Carolina.
With an offense that lost nearly half of its scoring from last year, an improved defense will be necessary. Frese believes that jump will happen.