Terps feel like atyp­i­cal un­der­dogs

Draw com­par­isons to ‘06 na­tional cham­pi­onship squad

The Washington Times Daily - - Sports - BY MIKE DE­FABO

Don’t be fooled by the seed­ing. Though fifth-ranked Mary­land claimed the No. 2 seed in the Raleigh re­gion, the Terps are call­ing them­selves the un­der­dogs in Sun­day’s Sweet Six­teen matchup against third-seeded Texas A&M.

“A lot of peo­ple don’t have faith in us. I hon­estly be­lieve that,” se­nior cen­ter Lynetta Kizer said. “They’re de­fend­ing na­tional champs. I’m pretty sure peo­ple are go­ing to pick that over a No. 2 seed, No. 5 [rank­ing].”

For a 30-4 Mary­land team that had its hottest start since the 2006 na­tional cham­pi­onship team, earned the sec­ond seed just like the 2006 Terps and even ran into an as­sis­tant coach from the 2006 sea­son in the sec­ond round, fac­ing a de­fend­ing na­tional cham­pion is just one more par­al­lel be­tween the 2006 Terps and the cur­rent squad.

In 2006, it was Bay­lor in the Sweet Six­teen. Just like that sea­son, the Terps are play­ing with a chip on their shoul­der, say­ing no one be­lieves they can make it all the way.

“The tar­get is def­i­nitely on them,” guard Lau­rin Mincy said. “I know a lot of peo­ple don’t have faith in us, but we’re go­ing to come and play strong with a lot of en­ergy for 40 min­utes and just give it all we got.” Coach Brenda Frese, who has led the Terps to four Sweet Six­teens, three Elite Eights and the na­tional cham­pi­onship, said she no­tices the sim­i­lar­i­ties.

In fact, she pointed out that the 2006 Terps also faced a de­fend­ing na­tional cham­pion be­fore re­porters could. She, how­ever, sees the cur­rent team as a new chap­ter.

“What’s so sat­is­fy­ing this time around is to be tak­ing a new team,” Frese said. “When you talk about 2006 and the cham­pi­onship and the run that we had, to turn your en­tire ros­ter over and take a com­pletely new team, for us to be able to do it again is re­ally sat­is­fy­ing.” MARY­LAND VS. TEXAS A&M Sun­day: TV:

The Ag­gies will bring the heat de­fen­sively with full-court presses sim­i­lar to that of Mi­ami, Ge­or­gia Tech and — most re­cently — Louisville. Mary­land can look to those games as a model, but Frese and the sec­ond-ranked re­bound­ing team don’t have to look fur­ther than the mir­ror to see the sim­i­lar­i­ties on the of­fen­sive glass. Shut­ting down the Ag­gies, who led the Big 12 in of­fen­sive re­bound­ing, starts with the boards.

“We want to elim­i­nate ev­ery­one from get­ting to the of­fen­sive glass,” for­ward Tianna Hawkins said. “We need to do what we do best, which is re­bound, run and de­fend. I think if we do those three things, we’ll do well.”

The Ag­gies also dress five re­turn­ing se­niors from the cham­pi­onship team, yet an­other ob­sta­cle for the Terps, who have shown youth­ful jit­ters at times in the tour­na­ment. But don’t tell Kizer the ma­tu­rity makes the Ag­gies shoo-ins for the Elite Eight.

“I think that peo­ple will kind of take that ex­pe­ri­ence over us, but we’re hun­gry,” Kizer said. “We’re hun­gry and we’re ready to make our run in this tour­na­ment.”

Hours be­fore mak­ing his de­but with the Washington Wiz­ards, Nene was watch­ing on NBA TV a pre­sen­ta­tion of “The As­so­ci­a­tion: Den­ver Nuggets.” It was hard for him to watch, at least in the be­gin­ning. It got eas­ier.

“[Watch­ing] that gave me peace,” Nene said. “I know ev­ery­thing I did to work hard and I know my­self. This is a new be­gin­ning.”

Nene ac­knowl­edges he was blind­sided by last week’s trade that sent him from Den­ver to Washington, but the deeply spir­i­tual Wiz­ards cen­ter seems al­ready at peace with his new team and new life. Get­ting a win in his first game cer­tainly didn’t hurt.

“We are go­ing to do a lot of good things,” Nene said. “Right now, we are just try­ing to know each other a lit­tle bit more. I’m ex­cited. This is a very ath­letic team with a lot of tal­ent. We do need a lit­tle more ex­pe­ri­ence, but we’ll be fine.”

Nene not only brings that ex­pe­ri­ence but a new at­ti­tude, and the div­i­dends were im­me­di­ate.

“I thought that was prob­a­bly our most com­plete game as a team this year,” Wiz­ards coach Randy Wittman said af­ter the Wiz­ards de­feated the Nets 108-89 on Wed­nes­day night in New Jer­sey, the final con­test of a sixgame road trip.

Point guard John Wall agreed, and he pulled no punches as to the rea­sons why.

“We had to get used to cut­ting, and know­ing we could get the ball back, be­cause [Nene] hit a cou­ple of guys in prac­tice the other day,” Wall said with a laugh.

“We prob­a­bly had two or three hand­offs in the post [be­fore Nene], but now we can cut pretty hard, be­cause you know you can get the ball back. Yeah, it was a lot of fun. It makes the job eas­ier for me.”

Wall’s mean­ing is crys­tal clear: Nene is an ex­cel­lent passer, shares the ball and the guards are free to cut, be­cause Nene will find them. The ball doesn’t stop, the of­fense keeps mov­ing, and that makes the life of a point guard a whole lot bet­ter.

In the win over New Jer­sey, Nene recorded 22 points, 10 re­bounds and two as­sists in 31 min­utes.

Veteran guard Roger Ma­son Jr. said he plans to “tem­per his ex­pec­ta­tions” af­ter just one game, but he knows what Nene has al­ready brought to this team.

“He came in right away, teach­ing his po­si­tion­ing and foot­work, just lit­tle tips to the young big guys. And it all re­ally helped,” Ma­son said. “Some of the young big guys could learn a lot from him.”

Sec­ond-year player Trevor Booker is one of those young big men who will ben­e­fit from the new man in the low post.

“Nene [was] down there bang­ing. Kevin [Seraphin was] down there bang­ing. I’m down there bang­ing,” Booker said. “I’m feel­ing pretty good, pretty con­fi­dent about this team. I en­joyed this game.”

The lot­tery-bound Wiz­ards haven’t had a lot fun on the court this sea­son. The Brazil­ian cen­ter with the ever­p­re­sent smile has al­ready changed that.

It took him one game.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

New Wizard Nene scored 22 points and snared 10 re­bounds in a 108-89 win at New Jer­sey on Wed­nes­day.

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