TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Brenda Frese and her Maryland Terrapins aren’t just happy to be back in the Final Four for a second straight season. They plan on sticking around through the weekend and play on Tuesday night for the national championship.
For that to happen they’ll have to knock off two-time defending champion UConn on Sunday night.
“Aren’t we tired of it,” Frese said of UConn’s dominance. “Everyone’s rooting for us. Some new stories, our sport needs it to be quite honest. I know there are a lot of people out there cheering and want to see Maryland beat UConn. For us and our sport it would be a great thing.”
After the Terrapins won the national championship in 2006, they didn’t make it back to the Final Four until last season with star Alyssa Thomas. Frese graduated five seniors, including Thomas, and few thought they’d be back so soon.
Frese said she started believing this team could be something special midway through their undefeated run through their first year in the Big Ten Conference.
“This is a team that no one expected to be here,” Frese said. “To accomplish what they did we were written off after Alyssa graduated and our five seniors. It is a different mentality coming back with this team.
“Last year’s team that was their goal, they were happy to be here. That’s not the goal for this year’s team.”
Making the Final Four feels like a rite of spring for the Huskies lately as the team has appeared in the last eight national semifinals, winning four championships. Auriemma has said he believes the Huskies’ dominance is good for the sport, It’s certainly a role the they relish.
“They come to Connecticut with that expectation in mind and they either embrace that role and survive and thrive,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said.
Winning a third straight championship for the second time in school history would give Auriemma 10 in his career, tying him with vaunted UCLA men’s coach John Wooden for the most titles in college basketball.
The winner of Sunday’s game will face either South Carolina or Notre Dame for the title on Tuesday night.
Here are some other things to watch in Sunday’s Maryland-UConn matchup:
DECORATED HUSKIE: Breanna Stewart won The Associated Press player of the year award for the second consecutive season Saturday. Earlier in the day she won the Wade Trophy for the first time. Despite the individual awards, Stewart was still focused on the bigger goal, winning a third title. “It’s the reason why we are here, to play basketball,” she said. “These awards are nice, but it’s all extra. It doesn’t mean anything if we don’t do what we came here for.”
DAS BOOT: Stewart was wearing a walking boot on her left foot when she came to the Huskies’ press conference and AP awards ceremony. She’s been wearing it all season saying: “The boot is nothing. It’s inflammation of the sesamoid bones. It’s fine.”
NBA PEDIGREE: Maryland guard Lexie Brown and forward Aja Ellison met at a very early age when they were toddlers following their dads around as they played together for the Boston Celtics in the 1990s. “It’s a really neat story that their stories began with the Boston Celtics at the same time,” Frese said. “They had road trips together but don’t remember it.” Dee Brown and Pervis Ellison overlapped on the Celtics for a few season in the mid-1990s. Brown hasn’t been able to see his daughter play too much because of his job as an assistant for the Sacramento Kings. The former slam dunk champion is taking a break from his job to come see Sunday’s game. Ellison has been to a handful of games this season and will be there on Sunday as well.
DOMINANT HUSKIES: Led by Stewart, the two-time most outstanding player of the Final Four, the Huskies have run through the NCAA Tournament. They won their first three games by an average of 47.6 points. Dayton gave UConn a bit of a challenge for the first 20 minutes and actually led at the half. It was the first time since 2013 that UConn trailed at the break. Connecticut was undeterred and went on to win the regional final by 21 points.
Follow Doug on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/dougfeinberg
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.