Terps move up to­day to the Las Ve­gas high-stakes ta­ble

Ari­zona St. 1st of 3 straight Power 5 teams UMwill face

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Gene Wang

Af­ter four lop­sided vic­to­ries to be­gin the sea­son, the sixth-ranked Mary­land women’s bas­ket­ball team is set for a sig­nif­i­cant up­grade in op­po­nents over the next week. The stretch of three straight games against Power Five schools starts to­day, when the Terps face No. 23 Ari­zona State in the first round of the South Point Shootout in Las Ve­gas.

Mary­land (4-0) will draw an­other Pac-12 Con­fer­ence team, Washington State, in Satur­day’s fi­nal round be­fore mov­ing on to the ACC/Big Ten Chal­lenge, where a fa­mil­iar ad­ver­sary awaits. The Terps will face No. 4 Louisville on Thurs­day in their first trip to the KFC Yum! Cen­ter since they beat the Car­di­nals, 76-73, on April 1, 2014, to ad­vance to the Fi­nal Four.

“I think on­both ends of the floor we’ll see where we’re at de­fen­sively. With such a young team, I feel like that’s an area we­have to con­tinue to keep grow­ing,” Terps coach Brenda Frese said. “Of­fen­sively we’re go­ing to be fac­ing a lot of pres­sure, so we’ll need to take care of the bas­ket­ball and not turn it over in ad­di­tion to be­ing able to ex­e­cute.”

The South Point Shootout will pro­vide Mary­land with its first glimpse at the level of com­pe­ti­tion it will face when Big Ten Con­fer­ence play be­gins in Jan­uary, as well as in the spring in the NCAA tour­na­ment. The step up in class fig­ures to be of par­tic­u­lar ben­e­fit to the Terps’ six fresh­men af­ter an open­ing week in which Mary­land won by an av­er­age of 49 points.

The fresh­men made up the top-rated re­cruit­ing class in the coun­try, but hardly broke a sweat last week in beat­ing op­po­nents such as UMES and Mount St. Mary’s.

“It’ll prob­a­bly be a lit­tle dif­fer­ent for them, a dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ment, a ranked op­po­nent,” se­nior guard Sha­tori Walk­erKim­brough said. “But I don’t want them to over­think it. It’s still bas­ket­ball, and they’ve been play­ing great these first four games. Noth­ing should change in the way they play. They should just con­tinue to play South Point Shootout hard.”

Most re­cently, Mary­land de­feated Ni­a­gara, 96-64, on Sun­day in its first road game of the sea­son. Point guard Des­tiny Slocum fin­ished with game highs of 25 points, in­clud­ing 5-for-10 on 3-point­ers, and seven as­sists in 28 min­utes. The per­for­mance prompted Ni­a­gara coach Jada Pierce to call Slocum one of the best fresh­men she’s seen in 20 years.

Slocum was the high­est-ranked player at her po­si­tion as a se­nior in high school and fills an im­me­di­ate need af­ter the Terps grad­u­ated both point guards from last sea­son. She’s sec­ond on the team in scor­ing (14.5 points per game) this sea­son, a frac­tion be­hind Walker-Kim­brough.

In ad­di­tion to Slocum, Mary­land has red­shirt ju­nior Ieshia Small and fresh­man Sarah My­ers as pri­mary ball­han­dlers. Small, a trans­fer from Bay­lor who sat out last sea­son un­der NCAA rules, had six as­sists against Ni­a­gara. My­ers’ best game so far came in a 106-61 win against UMES on Nov. 16, when she had nine as­sists with one turnover.

Turnovers have been a prob­lem for Mary­land over the past sev­eral years, but the Terps fre­quently have been able to counter with ex­tra pos­ses­sions be­cause of their of­fen­sive re­bound­ing. Mary­land is sec­ond na­tion­ally in re­bound­ing mar­gin (plus-26 per game) and tied for 13th in turnover mar­gin (plus-9.3).

In the Sun Devils (2-1), the Terps face an op­po­nent that not only is forc­ing nearly 21 turnovers per game but owns a plus-16 mar­gin in re­bound­ing.

“It’s ob­vi­ously go­ing to be bet­ter” com­pe­ti­tion, Slocum said. “We all know that they’re a lot more tal­ented than the four other teams we’ve played, but I think our mind­set is just go­ing to stay the same as it’s al­ways been in the first four games. We can’t change the way we feel about a game just be­cause some­one is more tal­ented.”

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