Arizona playing at Maryland on Sunday in the Round of 32 game of the NCAA tournament will be a challenge but the Wildcats are battle tested playing on the road in hostile environments against Pac-12 against teams such as Oregon, Oregon State and Stanford.
The game between the No. 7 Wildcats (21-9) and No. 2 Terrapins (26-6) is at 2:30 p.m., Tucson time. It will be televised by ESPN and broadcast on radio on KTUC (1400-AM).
“The Pac-12 has prepared us for these moments,” Arizona coach Adia Barnes said in Saturday’s press conference. “We’re lucky we have a conference that is competitive, and we’re playing against tough teams every weekend. I think a lot of other conferences aren’t, not top to bottom.”
All in.#MadeForIt x #LeaveALegacy pic.twitter.com/7Zef3NhINv
— Arizona Basketball (@ArizonaWBB) March 19, 2023
Barnes knows what it’s like to travel to College Park, Md., and come away with success in this round of March Madness. She was an assistant coach at Washington when the seventh-seeded Huskies traveled to Maryland in 2016 and advanced to the Sweet 16 en route to a Final Four appearance.
Going into that game, Washington had more losses (10) than Arizona has now (nine) and Maryland was 31-3 as the No. 2 seed.
“At Washington, we did come here because we were underdogs and referencing it to the point that you can win on the road, it doesn’t matter,” Barnes said. “Anything is possible, because when we went to the Final Four (in 2021) we were also on the road. We were in the (COVID-19) bubble for a week.
“It was different. I think just keeping us focused and feeling good and controlling what we can control and that’s how we play. It’s how we defend. And if we do those things, we’ll keep on playing.”
Washington had Kelsey Plum and Chantel Osahor on that 2015-16 team as well. Plum finished with 32 points and seven assists and Osahor had 15 rebounds and four steals to go with her nine points.
Arizona’s version of that is Shaina Pellington and Esmery Martinez, who may not have all the accolades of Plum and Osahor, but they are equally valuable to Arizona.
Pellington must have the aggressiveness she showed in Friday’s 75-62 first round win against No. 10 West Virginia at College Park, and Martinez needs another double-double performance.
Pellington had 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field, most of the shots on drives to the basket, and Martinez finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds in the win over West Virginia.
When Martinez plays like that — staying out of foul trouble — that makes Cate Reese that much more dangerous. Reese, a fifth-year senior who will make her 153rd career start Sunday, finished with 25 points on 10-of-19 shooting with six rebounds and three assists against the Mountaineers.
“Obviously, their scoring can come from anywhere,” said Maryland coach Brenda Frese, who will coach against her alma mater for the fourth time, first in the NCAA tournament. “They have so many talented players, McDonald’s All Americans and players that have a lot of experience, especially a couple years back from that national championship game.
“They play really, really hard. So for us, it’s just being able to handle the pressure and keep our poise and our composure.”
Arizona is 16th nationally with 10.5 steals per game and Maryland is at No. 18 with 10.4 a game.
Barnes and Frese both often use the press to dictate tempo and create scoring opportunities.
“Personally, for me, I think what stood out (about Arizona) is their defensive pressure is pretty intense,” said Maryland’s versatile 6-foot-3 Diamond Miller. “As we were watching film, they play you 40 feet the whole game nonstop. So we definitely have to be prepared for that and know that they’re coming for us and we gotta protect the ball.
“Ball security is really what I really noticed that we need to make sure we handle: 90 feet. 90 feet. 90 feet.”
Pellington’s 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field against West Virginia means she has scored 15 or more points in three of her last four NCAA tournament games. When Arizona played Stanford in the 2020-21 championship game, Pellington had 15 points and seven rebounds in 30 minutes off the bench behind Aari McDonald.
“I think it’s do or die. I mean, it’s you lose, you’re done. You know what I mean?” Pellington said. “Right now, my mindset is just do whatever needs to be done to get the job done.”
PAC-12 VS. MARYLAND SUCCESSFUL IN SECOND ROUND
The Terps have advanced to the Sweet 16 in eight of the past 10 seasons. In the two seasons they did not advance, they were eliminated by Pac-12 teams at College Park — Washington in 2016 and UCLA in 2019.
“I think you see in Arizona, a lot of teams, some very defensive-oriented type teams (from the Pac-12),” Frese said when asked about the success of the Pac-12 teams. “I think it’s in the Big Ten a lot of offensive-oriented teams, so you’re definitely going to have a lot of great styles.
“But any of your Power 5 conferences you’re going to see nothing but great teams. Anyone that’s in the Round of 32 you’re also going to get nothing but teams that have had a lot of the success and are going to be more than prepared.”
NCAA TRANSFER TOURNAMENT
After reaching the Sweet 16 last season with a 23-9 record, Frese lost Angel Reese to LSU, Ashley Owusu to Virginia Tech and Mimi Collins to NC State, but she gained All-SEC selection Brinae Alexander from Vanderbilt, Lavender Briggs from Florida, Ivy League Player of the Year Abby Meyers from Princeton, Elisa Pinzan from South Florida and Allie Kubek from Towson.
“It’s a lot of change, especially for our fans, a lot of new names,” Frese said to reporters before the season. “But the transfer portal isn’t going away. It is what it is, and the name of the game is you have to adapt and adjust.”
Locking in🔒#MadeForIt x #LeaveALegacy pic.twitter.com/9LTgfOLpZ5
— Arizona Basketball (@ArizonaWBB) March 18, 2023
Meyers is Maryland’s second-leading scorer (14.6 points a game), behind Miller, who is averaging 19.5 points a game coming off a knee surgery last year.
Alexander is shooting 44.3 percent (62 of 140) from 3-point range.
Briggs is averaging 7.1 points and 4.3 rebounds a game.
“If you look back at both teams, I think they don’t have the players that they had before,” said Barnes, who lost seven transfers from last year’s team but gained Martinez from West Virginia, Lauren Fields from Oklahoma State and Jade Loville from Arizona State.
“I think we’re both two totally different teams and different styles. And Maryland has played phenomenal this year with five guards. I think they pose a lot of mismatches for people.”
MARYLAND WAS A FINALIST FOR MADISON CONNER
When Barnes landed a commitment from Madison Conner in April 2020, it was learned that Frese heavily recruited her as well.
Frese returned to Tucson during the recruiting process for lunch with Conner’s club-team coach Jeremy Daniels to make a pitch for her. Daniels coaches with former Sabino coach Jaamal Rhodes with AZSupreme.
“Maddie was getting a lot of schools coming in to Arizona, but the fact that Jaamal and I had relationships with them, a lot of them would drop down to Tucson (from Phoenix) and have lunch with us,” Daniels said. “When you have Brenda Frese from Maryland, a top 10 program that has been like that over the last few years, here in Tucson that lets you know what caliber of player that you have.”
Conner, a standout at Perry High School and AZ Compass Prep, was also being recruited by NC State, UCLA, Louisville, Indiana, Washington and Cal.
Barnes had the upper hand developing an eye for Conner’s talent before the others came to this state to try to sway her away. The early recruitment of Conner, a 6-foot guard-wing with perimeter-shooting skills, and the direction of Barnes’ program, were the deciding factors for her to sign with Arizona.
“The overall view of it — they’re on the upclimb — and (Barnes) is doing something great there. I definitely want to be a part of it,” Conner told AllSportsTucson.com at the time, a year before the Wildcats reached the NCAA championship game. “I’ve had a connection with her because she gave me my first offer when I was in the eighth grade.
“That connection with her is something I didn’t have with the other schools, but I just feel like that’s home. “
BARNES COACHED MILLER WITH TEAM USA
Barnes was part of Dawn Staley’s coaching staff with the 2021 USA Basketball Women’s AmeriCup Team that included Miller and Owusu from Maryland (as noted previously, Owusu has since transferred to Virginia Tech).
“It was great to see her,” Barnes said of Miller in Friday’s first-round win over Holy Cross. “She was great. I really enjoyed her at my time with USA basketball. She’s a really good player, so I don’t really love playing against her. I loved coaching her.
“What really stood out about Diamond to me was she was really high energy. I remember it would be like the beginning of practice, everybody is kind of getting warmed up. Some people are kind of just in relaxed mode. She was always like go, like full go. And she had a motor, and I remember us as a staff talking about it. Like her motor is great. You wanted some other people to have her motor. But just good player, great person, and just a lot of fun, was really actually really funny. Just don’t love playing against her.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.