Despite the National Semifinal game pitting Maryland against UConn being a showdown of #1 seeds, the Huskies are the overwhelming favorite.  Can you blame conventional wisdom?  The two-time defending National Champions have won 35 straight games while posting victories in the NCAA Tournament by 56, 36, 51 and 21 points.  The Huskies are 3-0 against the Terps over the last three seasons–winning on home, neutral (as neutral as Bridgeport, CT can be) and road courts by an average of 18 points per game.  They boast a matchup nightmare in National Player of the Year Breanna Stewart (18 points and 8 rebounds per game leads the Huskies–and she’s second on the team in assists, blocks and steals).  Coach Geno Auriemma’s bench also boasts players who could start for most of the other teams in the tournament.  Prepare to pay Pat Riley the residuals for printing “Threepeat” paraphernalia.

Or–Maryland makes the miraculous happen.  They shock the world like Notre Dame did in 2011 when the Fighting Irish upended then 36-1 UConn.  They extend the season two more days like the 2006 Maryland team did when they beat a North Carolina squad that only three weeks previously topped the Terps for the ACC Championship.  They turn the college basketball world upside down– or given their status as one of the top four seeds, a few degrees off its normal true north.

 

How do the Terps go from the dream to a reality of an upset?

Start Strong– the Terps began last year’s Final Four game against Notre Dame slowly–and it cost them.  They fell behind early in NCAA games against Princeton and Tennessee before pulling away.  They can ill afford having to play catchup against the Huskies…who showed in their Regional Finals win over Dayton the ability to hit that next gear (going on a 15-3 run to start the second half after trailing 44-43 at the half).

 

Win the Battle of the Boards– Maryland ranks 8th in Division I in rebounding margin; UConn is #2 behind George Washington.  Limiting the Huskies (who shoot 54%) to just one shot is necessary for survival.

 

Get Brionna Jones Going-– the sophomore center’s hit 20 of 31 shots in the NCAA Tournament (64.5%).  Her success in the low post will in theory will open up shots for Lexie Brown and Laurin Mincy on the perimeter in the halfcourt offense.

 

Temper the Turnovers– the Huskies also rank second in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.76).  Maryland’s 40th.  It’s tough enough trying to make shots against UConn, but if they can’t even get quality shots–it’ll be a long night.

 

Transition, Transition, Transition– Maryland can run better than most teams in the country…and against a team like UConn it’s imperative to get easy baskets whenever possible.

 

Defend the Undefendable– Breanna Stewart can kill opponents in so many ways.  The 6-foot-4 forward shoots 54% from the field and 32% from 3-point range while being able to pass out of switches and double-teams effectively (119 assists ranks second on team).  In theory, Malina Howard will be assigned the task of containing Stewart.  But the junior can put the ball on the floor effectively as well-meaning multiple Terps will draw the assignment of stopping this offensive monster.  Dayton had some success (Stewart shot 8 for 18) but that left the door open to Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Morgan Tuck (the two combined to score 50 against the Flyers).  A herculean defensive effort against Stewart and her teammates won’t assure victory, but not having one will guarantee defeat.

 

Backups must Stand Up– Brene Moseley, Tierney Pfirman, Kristen Confroy and Kiara Leslie have all contributed in reserve roles this winter–and each has had a standout moment or two during the tournament run.  At least three need to have outstanding efforts against the Huskies.  There can’t be a drop-off from starters to reserves–or UConn’s depth will prove to be the difference.

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