Terps feel like atypical underdogs
Draw comparisons to ‘06 national championship squad
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.
New Wizard Nene scored 22 points and snared 10 rebounds in a 108-89 win at New Jersey on Wednesday.