Assessing Maryland's key players halfway through ACC play

Brenda Frese has had to juggle her lineup around, but has found a way to put her players in a position to succeed. - USA TODAY Sports

Maryland has had a rough year with injuries. But with seven key contributors they are in a position to challenge Duke in the ACC and maybe hang with the handful of other teams ahead of them in the rankings come tournament time.

No. 10/9 Maryland (17-3, 8-1 ACC) has had a lot of time off this week to sort of assess where they are now that they have reached the halfway point of ACC play (nine down, nine to go). They are playing as well as anybody else in the conference right now and they have the second best rebounding margin in the country. If they keep dominating on the boards and in the paint with their stars and if their guards Chloe Pavlech and Katie Rutan both keep playing with a chip on their shoulder, this team could be where it wants to be at the end of ACC play, which is prepared to compete with the Baylors, Notre Dames and Connecticuts of the world so that going further than the Elite Eight can become a reality.

Here's a look at the seven main contributors who have gotten them to this point and who will be key to their success moving forward:

Tianna Hawkins

6-3 senior forward from Clinton, Md.

Hawkins hasn't let up since starting off the season by asserting herself as a star and no longer a sidekick to Alyssa Thomas. She proved that her early success wasn't the product of playing weaker non-conference teams, as she has had arguably the best first half of conference play out of anybody in the ACC. She is first in the the conference in scoring with 19.1 points per game and one rebound shy of being tied for first in rebounding with Alyssa Thomas at 10.3 boards per game. Hawkins, who led the NCAA in field goal percentage (62.3) a year ago, is currently third in the ACC in that category at 58 percent. She has scored in double figures in every game of the season but one.

Tianna is a player who according to some has shown perhaps more improvement between freshman and senior year than any other player in all of women's college basketball. And she was pretty good as a freshman so that's saying something. Because of her determination to get better over the past four years, she is likely destined to go very early in the 2013 WNBA draft.

Something has clicked on in Tianna Hawkins this year. Would-be starting guards Brene Moseley and Laurin Mincy went down for the year with ACL tears and Hawkins' play let everyone know her team was not going to miss a beat. She has made it her responsibility as a senior to carry this team to potentially even bigger and better things than they achieved last year.

Alyssa Thomas

6-2 junior forward from Harrisburg, Pa.

Thomas, on the other hand, is playing just as well as she did last year during her ACC Player of the Year-winning sophomore campaign. She is second to Hawkins in the ACC in scoring at 16.5 points per game, leads in rebounding and is second in assists with 5.6. She already has one triple-double this year, which was the second in program history, and she seems like a threat to get another one every night.

If anything, Alyssa is probably playing a little bit better this year than she did last year. That might be hard to detect considering it's difficult do any better than she did in 2011-12 and also since she is sharing the spotlight with Hawkins now. But it is noticeable that Thomas has been pushing the ball up in transition after defensive rebounds more aggressively than ever. To go along with that, it seems like she's scoring in the paint off fast breaks more than she did last year. Her mid-range game is still there, but it is not getting used as much. That's a good sign for the Terps because even though Thomas can knock down shots from anywhere inside the 3-point line, they'd much rather see her use her speed to outrun opponents and her strength to finish layups.

Alicia DeVaughn

6-4 junior center from West Palm Beach, Fla.

The Terps have survived their rash of injuries in large part due to the ability of every member of their supporting cast to score in double figures on any given night. Perhaps the player who goes about her big scoring nights most quietly is Alicia DeVaughn. She doesn't score in ways that are flashy, but she is nevertheless third on Maryland in points per game with 8.7. And although at only 3.3 made field goals per game she is not eligible to be included on NCAA.com's leader board, her 64.7 percent field goal percentage is pretty impressive.

DeVaughn has scored in double figures eight times this year, though it took her until the Georgia Tech game to do so in an ACC contest. Her inside scoring efficiency adds to Maryland's domination in the paint, as does her consistent presence on the glass and on defense. Remember she was the one deserving of the most credit for containing Elena Delle Donne back in December.

But maybe the most important stat about Alicia is the fact that she is one of only three Terps to have played in and started every game of the season so far, the other two being Thomas and Hawkins. That trio of returners from last year is the heart and soul of Maryland.

Tierney Pfirman

6-2 freshman forward from Williamsport, Pa.

Pfirman is still going to be out for the next five games and although the Terps have performed admirably so far in her absence, she is an important offensive weapon that they are eager to get back.

Tierney is averaging 8.6 points and 4.3 rebounds on the season. She can knock down threes when she's feeling it and at 6-2 has the versatility to score from a variety of places on the floor. She has scored in double figures seven times this year, with her two best performances coming against Virginia when she had 17 and N.C. State when she had 16.

Pfirman was the No. 22 overall recruit and No. 5 forward in her class, so she did come in with somewhat high expectations. And she hasn't disappointed, starting in 12 of the 17 games she has played in and filling in nicely at what is effectively the 2 guard position even though she's a forward.

Chloe Pavlech

5-9 freshman guard from Cincinnati, Ohio

Everyone on Maryland is trying to step their game up because of the injuries, but the heaviest burden falls on the guards and Pavlech in particular because she is filling in for Mincy who probably would have been filling in for Moseley at point guard.

Chloe was the third option to take over the reins from last year's starting point guard Anjale Barrett, and of the three freshman recruits Maryland brought in this year she had the smallest amount of expectations surrounding her. But lack of hype hasn't stopped her from having the great season she has had thus far or from winning ACC Rookie of the Week for her performances against UNC and Clemson last week.

Pavlech seems to have had a sort of underdog story going, but that may not last much longer if she keeps proving people wrong. Already this year she's debunked the belief held by a couple of opponents that she couldn't shoot the three. She's shooting just fine from beyond the arc (35.4 percent) and has had two offensive outbursts to go along with all around solid point guard play throughout the year. She has started more games and played more minutes than any of the other freshmen and has the third most minutes on the team after Thomas and Hawkins.

Katie Rutan

5-8 redshirt junior guard from Ambler, Pa.

Rutan, a transfer from Xavier, is instant offense from downtown with 11 multi-3-point games and seven double digit scoring efforts this year. She is eighth in the conference in 3-point shooting percentage at 37.9 percent.

However, Rutan has proven to be so much more than a spot up 3-point shooter. She is a great ball handler and the Terps can obviously use as many of those as they can get, especially when they get pressed. And another thing about her is her toughness. Katie broke her nose at North Carolina and has been out there with a mask, still fighting for every rebound and loose ball.

Rutan started the first three games of the season and has started the last three in place of Pfirman as the effective 2 guard. She has been great off the bench in the other 14 games and Maryland probably likes being able to sub in someone with her kind of firepower. She has stepped up in her renewed role as a starter though, averaging 10.7 points over the three games without Pfirman. All were Maryland wins.

Malina Howard

6-4 freshman center from Twinsburg, Ohio

Howard was the highest ranked recruit to join Maryland this year at No. 6 overall and No. 1 among post players. And while she is the only player on this list who has yet to start a game, the Terps are obviously fortunate to have a player of her caliber coming off the bench.

Malina's playing time varies game-to-game but she has played in every contest and does average 24 minutes. She has scored in double figures five times, with her career high of 17 points coming against American in November. It it clear to see why she was a highly sought after recruit because the talent is there.

Howard has the makings of a future big time scorer. She has more range than even Alyssa Thomas and Tianna Hawkins and can move well with the ball and drive from pretty far out. And defensively, she leads the team in blocks with 19.

For more on Maryland at mid-season, visit our storystream.

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