LINCOLN — Her players wore T-shirts with her name, her silhouette and “500” written on them. Brenda Frese wore a grateful smile. The Maryland women’s basketball coach has always liked playing at Nebraska. Now, Pinnacle Bank Arena is home to a career milestone.
With the No. 9 Terrapins’ 81-63 win over the Huskers Tuesday night, Frese earned her 500th victory. She did it in just 20 years, too. And since NU’s never beaten Maryland, her program had a hunch the win was coming. Frese’s parents attended. So did her old high school basketball coach. As Frese and her players sat in a postgame media session, UM personnel dotted the room. An ESPN reporter was there. Maryland celebrated in its locker room with a surprise video composed of Frese’s former players.
“I haven’t made a basket,” Frese said. “I haven’t gotten a stop on defense. It comes down to the tremendous players and the tremendous staff members we’ve been able to put together over time. That’s what (500) speaks of — people who have come together with a single purpose.”
Nebraska wasn’t exactly fodder — the game was tight as a drum for 2½ quarters — but the Huskers, like so many of Maryland’s Big Ten foes, were at perpetual arm’s length from a win. They never led, not for a second. They were a half-step behind one of the Terrapins’ 3-point shooters in the first quarter. A half-inch short or long on their own 3-pointers in the second half. Steps and inches that add up to an 18-point loss.
By one board, NU outrebounded UM — almost no one does — and had nine blocks. But the Huskers hit only 23 shots. Maryland hit 32 shots. When Nebraska closed within 45-43 with 6:04 left in the third quarter, Maryland (14-1 overall and 3-1 in the Big Ten) responded with a 12-2 run. The Huskers (7-8 and 2-2) never seriously threatened again.
“They did a really good job of putting us in positions where we were playing one-on-one defense, which is not a strength of ours,” Williams said. Nebraska needs to play great team defense, she said. The sum has to be greater than the parts.
Trouble is, Maryland has awfully talented parts. Four former five-star recruits in its starting five, to be exact. That quartet — Kaila Charles, Blair Watson, Taylor Mikesell and Shakira Austin — combined for 54 points, 22 rebounds and seven steals. Watson and Mikesell each hit four 3-pointers. Charles, who led all scorers with 19, got to the hoop at will. With the exception of perhaps last season — when Maryland lost the league crown by a game to Ohio State — Frese has always had the Big Ten’s most talented team. She does again.
“People want to come and play for her, and she holds us to the highest standards,” Mikesell said. “That’s why she’s at 500 wins and going to get a lot more.”
Nebraska, meanwhile, is smack dab at the midpoint of its season, and a long way from any kind of postseason talk. Center Kate Cain and forward Kayla Mershon talked of losing focus with the defensive game plan — which consisted of guards getting pinned on Maryland screens and posts coming over too late to help — and taking positives from the experience. Mershon, just 15 games into her college career, was asked whether Maryland was the best team she’s played.
“I’m not intimidated by a ranking or anything,” Mershon said. “We need to come in (against) every team with the same preparation and the same mentality. It doesn’t matter what they’re ranked. It’s how we play in that game.”
Still, NU searches for its first win over the Terrapins.
Frese goes for win 501 vs. Michigan on Saturday. Her team will be a heavy favorite.
“You’d better have an extreme amount of passion to handle the highs and lows and fight for what it takes,” Frese said of her profession.
She’s lost eight Big Ten regular-season games in five years. There haven’t been many lows.
Maryland…………..26 17 18 20—81
At Nebraska……….23 14 12 14—63
UM: Austin 3-10 1-3 7, Jones 5-7 3-3 13, Charles 8-14 3-5 19, Mikesell 6-12 0-0 16, Watson 4-7 0-0 12, Fraser 1-4 0-0 2, Owens 0-0 0-0 0, Lewis 4-6 0-0 9, Myers 0-1 0-0 0, Vujacic 1-1 0-0 3, Totals 32-62 7-11 81.
NU: Simon 3-8 0-0 6, Cain 2-7 1-2 5, Eliely 4-5 1-2 9, Kissinger 2-8 0-0 6, Whitish 3-13 1-3 9, Brown 2-5 0-0 4, Mershon 2-3 3-4 8, Veerbeek 1-2 4-4 6, Haiby 3-9 2-2 8, Mitchell 1-1 0-0 2, Totals 23-61 12-17 63.
3-Point goals: Maryland 10-17 (Mikesell 4-7, Watson 4-7, Lewis 1-2, Vujacic 1-1), Nebraska 5-15 (Simon 0-1, Kissinger 2-4, Whitish 2-8, Brown 0-1, Mershon 1-1). Assists: Maryland 15 (Lewis 6), Nebraska 13 (Haiby 4). Rebounds: Maryland 37 (Austin 10), Nebraska 38 (Cain 10).