Terps’ senior standouts aim for a better ending
Shatori Walker-Kimbrough vividly recalls the disheartening atmosphere in the locker room last season after the Maryland women’s basketball team lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament to Washington.
Walker-Kimbrough had led the Terrapins with 17 points and 11 rebounds but said recently she wished she could have contributed more in preventing Maryland’s earliest exit since 2011. That moment of regret, she added, is in part what continues to push her and fellow senior Brionna Jones to ensure third-seeded Maryland advances far deeper this season.
The Terrapins (31-2) will resume their quest on Sunday afternoon in facing No. 6 seed West Virginia (24-10) at Xfinity Center for a berth in the Sweet 16 in the Bridgeport Region, where Connecticut is the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament. Maryland is seeking to reach the regional semifinals for the sixth time in seven seasons and ninth time overall since Coach Brenda Frese arrived in 2002.
“I feel like me personally, I kind of let [last year’s seniors] down in that game because we lost, and it shouldn’t have ended that way with all hard work they put in,” Walker-Kimbrough said of the 7465 result. “I know a little piece of me dedicates this season to them being what happened to their season last year.”
Walker-Kimbrough and Jones are set to play their final game at Xfinity Center, where Maryland is 16-3 in the NCAA tournament. Both are among the most decorated players in program history and had banners with their names and jersey numbers unveiled from the arena rafters, joining other all-time greats such as Alyssa Thomas, Kristi Toliver, Crystal Langhorne and Marissa Coleman.
The duo combined for 53 points during Friday’s 103-61 win against No. 14 seed Bucknell in the first round. Walker-Kimbrough’s 28 points were one short of matching her season high, and she made 12 of 18 shots in her first game since going just 2 for 9 with a season-low seven points during a 74-64 victory over Purdue in the Big Ten tournament championship game on March 5.
Walker-Kimbrough is fourth in career scoring at Maryland with 2,121 points, trailing Coleman by 84 for third place. She’s one of five players in school history to have amassed 2,000 points.
Jones made 11 of 17 shots against the Bison, including seven of her final eight field goal attempts, and grabbed a gamehigh 10 rebounds for her 23rd double-double this season and 56th of her career. She is third all-time at Maryland in rebounding (1,183), needing 47 to pass Langhorne for second place.
Both Walker-Kimbrough and Jones are three-time first-team all-Big Ten selections. Jones also was named the Big Ten tournament most outstanding player this season after averaging 24 points and 11 rebounds over three games. Walker-Kimbrough won the award last season.
“I think the biggest memory I have is after last year’s game [against Washington in the NCAA tournament] was over knowing that this was our seniors’ last game and all the hard work they had put into our program here,” Jones said. “They had a great four years, and just to have it end like that for them, I think that was the most disappointing thing for me.”
Jones has said she additionally was displeased with her uncharacteristically subpar showing, finishing with a season-low four points on 2-for-7 shooting. She averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds last season while leading Division I in field goal shooting at a fraction below 67 percent.
Her 69.5 shooting percentage this season leads the country again, and her average of 20 points per game is a career best. Jones’s 659 points are the fourth most in a season at Maryland. She needs 28 to eclipse Vicky Bullett’s program record set in 1988-89.
Jones also is within reach of Maryland’s single-season rebounding record, needing 28 to pass Thomas, who had 381 in 2012-13.
“There’s no reason to bring up last year’s game. I mean it’s fresh in the minds of the returning players,” Frese said. “The freshmen understand the past. This is a completely different team than we were last year. The thing I remind them of is that every round you advance, it gets that much harder.”
Frese had the luxury of being able to rest Jones and WalkerKimbrough as well as the majority of her starters for much of the second half on Friday with the outcome well in hand. Point guard Destiny Slocum, the Big Ten freshman of the year, was the only starter to log more than 25 minutes.
The 22nd-ranked Mountaineers, meanwhile, had four starters play at least 31 minutes during their 75-62 win over No. 11 seed Elon in the first round.
“I think it’s a big motivation for our team this year, especially both sharing stories about how they felt last year,” Slocum said of rallying around her senior teammates. “I know none of us wants to feel that way, and we don’t want them going out that way. They’re two great players, and they’re amazing people, and I think the best thing we can do is send them out in the best way possible.”