Maryland women’s basketball has new faces, same goal

“You’re going to see a blend of familiar faces … and a lot of new faces both young and old,” said Frese, who is starting her 19th season as Maryland’s coach. “This team, I’m not worried about our offense. We have a tremendous amount of firepower. This team, it is a better three-point shooting team than we had last season. It’s been a luxury because, first and foremost, everyone on this roster can score. … It’s just you guys are used to the faces that scored it for us last year. I’m excited for each and every one of them to have their opportunity this year.”

Frese’s program, in typical fashion, has reloaded instead of rebuilt. Meet Angel Reese, the No. 2 recruit in the country, and Mississippi State transfer Chloe Bibby, who played 37 games as a freshman on a Bulldogs team that went to the Final Four. Enter Harvard transfer Katie Benzan, a three-time first-team All-Ivy League performer, and Tennessee transfer Mimi Collins, a former McDonald’s all-American. And don’t forget about redshirt freshman guard Zoe Young, who was ranked No. 30 in her class by ESPN before a torn ACL forced her to sit out last season.

Then there’s Owusu, the Big Ten tournament MVP who averaged 12 points, 5.4 assists and 3.8 rebounds as a freshman and now faces higher expectations and more leadership responsibilities. She spent the offseason working on her three-point and midrange game after shooting 31 percent from three-point range and 44.6 percent from the floor as a freshman.

“I’ve been trying to be more vocal during practice,” Owusu said. “Coach has challenged me a lot to talk more and say what I see and different stuff like that. … I don’t look at [sophomore year] as pressure. I just look at it as this is what I prepared for and this is what I worked hard for. So I’m just going to go out and play my game and show everyone what I’m capable of. We’re pretty much, basically, a new team. So we know that and know we have to jell together and just be prepared for whatever happens.”

With talent coming in from all directions, the most intrigue may center on Reese. The Baltimore native is the highest-ranked incoming freshman in program history, and ESPN ranked her the No. 1 wing in the country. She averaged 18 points, 20 rebounds and five assists in her high school career at St. Frances Academy. At 6-foot-3, she is a problem in the post with good footwork and an aggressive disposition, but she also can put the ball on the floor from the perimeter and knock down jumpers. Her length is an asset on the defensive end.

Physical skills are one thing, but Frese raved about Reese’s competitiveness.

“The thing that has separated Angel has been all the intangibles,” Frese said. “I haven’t had a freshman come in with the leadership qualities, the vocal-ness, the confidence that this freshman Angel has come in with.”

That’s a strong statement from a coach who has been named Associated Press coach of the year, has won a national championship and consistently sends players to the WNBA. Reese doesn’t shy from the expectations, and she spent the offseason trying to improve her conditioning while knowing she may play big minutes and will be counted on to score. That confidence Frese mentioned is immediately apparent when she speaks.

“I don’t really feel it,” Reese said. “I understand that pressure that I do get, but it felt like a clean fresh start when I got here because my teammates are pushing me every day. Nobody really reminds me about being the No. 2 [recruit in the nation]. That was in high school. I have a fresh start, and this is a new thing for me. I have to rebrand myself and remake myself. It’s just a fresh start. … I don’t really feel the pressure like that. I just feel so confident. …

“Of course I’m going to 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. I know I’m going to go hard every single day. Whatever sacrifice Coach tells me I have to make, I’m willing to do.”

The Terrapins begin the season in the “Beach Bubble” at the Gulf Coast Showcase in Estero, Fla., with games against Davidson (Friday), No. 24 Missouri State (Saturday) and No. 14 Arkansas (Sunday). They return home to host Towson, Coppin State and Mount St. Mary’s during the first eight days of December before starting Big Ten play.

There’s a bit of unfinished business for Maryland, which was rolling with 17 consecutive wins and had a legitimate shot at winning the NCAA tournament before the coronavirus pandemic ended last season early. The Terps can’t exactly pick up where they left off after so much roster turnover, but Frese pointed out that one thing doesn’t change at Maryland — and that’s why she’s not concerned.

“When you sign up to come to Maryland,” she said, “you know it’s about winning and championships and you want to do it at the highest level. If you had the opportunity to come into our practices, we’re competing for titles.”

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