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Once a week last spring and summer, Chloe Bibby would wake up early, make some coffee, and join a Zoom call with her new Maryland women’s basketball teammates and coaching staff. It would be 5 p.m. on the East Coast, but it was morning in her native Australia, where Bibby had retreated at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. She had yet to meet anyone on the team in person.
Those calls were not to discuss Xs and Os. The aim, coach Brenda Frese says, was to mix things up and make sure they were never “boring.” Sometimes she invited WNBA players to talk with the team; on one occasion, the athletes competed to finish a virtual escape room. Bibby recalls a meeting in which everyone was asked to perform music of some sort for the group, and how competitive the task turned out to be.
“We had to kind of think outside the box for musical stuff, but it was two teams, and we were gonna win regardless,” Bibby says. “And that was a lot of the Zoom activities that we did. It was like, ‘OK, this is our team, and we’re gonna do you one better.’”
In light of major roster turnover, Maryland had to restock its roster and create an all-new starting five during an abnormal, pandemic-restricted offseason. The new-look Terrapins became not just a cohesive team, but the most potent offense in women’s college basketball. On March 4, the team claimed a share of the Big Ten regular season title. The players credit the chemistry the team built during the offseason, when long-distance calls were all they had.
“I think those [meetings] really helped layer the personalities and the chemistry in an odd sort of way through your computer screen with Zoom,” Frese says.
After Maryland’s 2019-20 season ended with a Big Ten title and the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament, three starters graduated, including top scorer Kaila Charles, and former five-star recruits Taylor Mikesell and Shakira Austin transferred.
Despite those absences, this year’s Terrapins (20-2, 16-1 Big Ten) are scoring 91.5 points per game, which puts them on pace to become just the second team since at least 2000 to finish a season averaging at least 90 points. Frese, who’s coached Maryland since 2002 and earned her 500th win with the program in February, says it is “hands down” the best offense she has had in College Park.
Sophomore Ashley Owusu has often led the way after earning a promotion from part-time starter to primary shooting guard and linchpin of the offense; she leads the Terrapins with 19 points and 5.9 assists per game. Around Owusu, though, Maryland has had to incorporate several new faces.
Those offseason Zoom sessions introduced Bibby, Harvard grad transfer Katie Benzan, No. 2 overall recruit Angel Reese, and Russia native freshman Taisiya Kozlova to the team. The Terrapins welcomed another grad transfer, Alaysia Styles, during the season. Yet another player, forward Mimi Collins, had transferred to Maryland in 2019 but redshirted last season per NCAA regulations.
“Coach did a great job of setting everything up with the Zoom calls, having team meetings and doing team bonding activities through a Zoom, so we were just connecting so easily,” Collins says. “Once it got to in-person [practices], it was just so easy to click with each other and we just had fun.”
Most of those players discovered their role in Maryland’s offense with ease. Benzan, a long-range sharpshooter, leads the country with a highly efficient 52.3 percent three-point shooting percentage. Collins and Bibby, both forwards, plus sophomore guard Diamond Miller are all scoring in double figures and averaging at least six rebounds per game. Reese missed 14 games with a broken bone in her foot, but she returned in February and led the Terrapins with 17 points in a recent win over Purdue.
Bibby believes each player’s competitive nature, combined with the care they have for one another, opens up the offense and inspires the unselfish style of play that Frese preaches.
“Sometimes if my shot is not falling, just go in there and go get a rebound. Go attack the rim as hard as you can,” Bibby says. “So it’s just finding different aspects of my game to help this team out. I know Katie is a great shooter, so I’m going to kick it out to her and if she misses that one out of two, I’m gonna go get that rebound. I think that mentality has really helped me, and it’s helped this team, too.”
The underlying statistics reveal no weaknesses in the Terrapins’ game. They average nearly 20 assists per game and own the second-best assist-to-turnover ratio (1.6) in the country, meaning their passes lead to points far more often than they’re intercepted. They’ve shot 48.9 percent from the field (fourth in the country), 79.2 percent on free throws (sixth), and 41.9 percent from three-point range (second).
Another key to Maryland’s success is its strength on the offensive glass. No Big Ten team averages more offensive rebounds than Maryland’s 15.1 per game. Bibby and back-up forward Faith Masonius each have grabbed 57 this season.
“When you talk about a Faith and a Mimi and a Chloe and when our guards get in there and mix it up as well, it just gives us extra opportunities to be able to go in and finish, to be able to go in and kick out to our great three-point shooting threats that we have,” Frese says. “It’s just another great piece to our team with all of their unselfishness.”
Maryland’s 88-63 win over No. 12 Michigan on March 4, in which Owusu took charge with 22 points, locked up the top seed in the Big Ten Tournament that begins next week in Indianapolis. After that, it’s on to the NCAA Tournament in San Antonio, where the Terrapins are projected to be a No. 2 seed.
The program hasn’t made it past the Sweet 16 since the 2014-15 season, but if it manages a deep run this year, players will point to the chemistry they began building in the summer as a major reason why a smooth transition was possible.
“Nothing [was] really tricky,” Collins says. “And it proves on the court with how we share the ball as well.”