Then the second quarter on Friday came in and out Ashley Oso. Banzan buried the three-point attempt by grabbing it easily and quickly by the wrist from the right wing. By the end of the quarter it was 4 for 4 from behind the arc, including one about two steps from the center court logo.
This was the gasoline that was key gear in Maryland’s No. 1 offensive last season. It was her blast in the second quarter that really opened up the Terrapins’ offensive in the first round of the 102-71 victory over Delaware. The No. 4 seeded No. 12 Terps in Florida face the Gulf Coast on Sunday.
“We got Katie looking good today, which is just what we needed to do,” Maryland guard Diamond Miller said afterwards. “And when you hit it, our insult flows better.”
The offense was arguably her best performance of the season as the 102 points were the second most scored in an NCAA Championship in the program’s history. What’s the difference from the past four months, where the Terps have been dangerous but not nearly as overwhelming as last season? The re-emergence of Banzan, Oso and Miller.
Banzan finished with 17 points, including five triples, equaling their second-highest production of the season and their highest since Jan. 23. Oso’s team’s highest level of 24 points, with six assists, was the second most scored. Season and biggest since November 27. Miller’s 23 points were also his second most all season and the most since Jan. 6.
This is the trio that gave opponents bouts last season and, with the addition of Angel Reese proper, finished fourth in an Associated Press poll to start the season.
“This team has faced a lot of adversity, especially Diamond and Ash, through injuries, which have not really happened in their careers,” said Maryland coach Brenda Friese. “Really proud of them to continue on the path. Ashley is back from that long break and has really used the last two weeks to get to where she really needed to get to our team. I thought she had a tremendous overall ground game.”
While Miller and Oso’s struggles had a lot to do with injuries, Banzan was a victim of her own success. Her shot was not consistent, but the teams also defended her differently. There weren’t many clean looks.
“It’s a little different when you’re being hunted every night and everyone knows who you are, to be able to play freely,” Frieze said.
Reese, an all-American third team, smiled Saturday at not having to carry such a heavy load. She was one of three players who haven’t missed a training or game this season and often needed to do the heavy lifting as the aforementioned trio worked through their struggles. The 6-foot-3 sophomore was able to relax somewhat and”[let] They do what they do, and I was just getting rebounds and doing everything I could to hit the shooters preemptively. “
The challenge will be different on Saturday against a Florida Gulf Coast team that likes to play fast and shoot three-pointers with reckless abandon. The Eagles lead the nation in three-point attempts with over 200, and goalkeeper Kendall Spray is the only active player in the country to have scored three more pitches than a Banzan. The FGCU is all about three throws and passes, and goalkeeper Kierstan Bell has joked that anyone who shoots in the mid-range is likely to be sitting on the bench next to coach Karl Smesko. Bell averages 23.2 points per game, and the rookie has already announced her intentions to enter the WNBA draft.
“What we actually call ourselves is ‘raining threes,’” said goalkeeper Andrea Cecil. “It is something we are very proud of. It’s a fun way to play basketball. We focus on getting the three points, that’s our game and that’s our style.”
Goalkeeper Techara Morehouse added: “Half of the training is shooting triples. So we have great confidence when it comes to shooting, no doubt.”
Both teams like to play at a fast pace, but Maryland State lends a long ground run that the Eagles just can’t imitate. The FGCU basically runs a pentagon system that puts a lot of pressure on the opposing defenses. The Terps’ starting five like to call themselves the “Big Keepers,” and they have the ability to score with anyone in the nation, but Sunday’s game to advance to the Sweet 16 could be a perfect fit for Reese.
There’s not much volume in the Eagles roster and they didn’t have an answer for Virginia Tech’s Elizabeth Keatley 6-6 in their 84-81 first-round win over the No. 5 seed. Kitley scored 42 points and grabbed eight rebounds, but didn’t get enough help from others. Reese leads the Terps in scoring and has 17 doubles. The biggest problem may be female genital mutilation matches.
“I saw what Keatley was able to do,” Frieze said. “I thought Angel was awesome yesterday. She set the tone off the edge. We started her existence, then it led to her being selfless to be able to come out on the inside.
“Yes, if I’m planning a match against us, they have knowledge of this element.”