After Maryland's first round win over Quinnipiac, Brenda Frese was asked if this trip to the NCAA tournament meant a little bit more to her, given everything the team had been through during the season.
"This team means even more to me," Frese responded. "The adversity that they have faced all season long - they have never used it as an excuse. They continue to give you everything they possibly have and play for each other and play with tremendous Maryland pride. So it is special to be able to see them advance and for good things to be able to happen to them."
And now the Terps are advancing again, this time to their fifth Sweet Sixteen with Coach Frese at the helm. Getting this team into the tournament as a relatively high seed and leading them to the Sweet Sixteen with a rotation of more or less seven players for much of the season has been quite an accomplishment, which is why Frese's recent WBCA Regional Coach of the Year honor comes as no surprise.
Her ability to manage Sequoia Austin's increased minutes wisely, put three freshmen in the best possible positions to succeed (even if for star recruit Malina Howard that meant coming off the bench) and help Tianna Hawkins develop over the past four years into the player she has become, are all worthy of recognition. With her guidance, the team has been able to remain positive despite all the injuries and bumps in the road they've faced throughout the season. Frese and seven other Regional Coaches of Year have now become finalists for WBCA National Coach of the Year.
Meanwhile, Alyssa Thomas has become a finalist for the State Farm Wade Trophy. Thomas led the ACC in the three main statistical categories this season (points, rebounds and assists) before notching the ACC women's basketball tournament's first triple-double and dropping 29 and 28 points in the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament. She has improved in points, rebounds and assists every season of her career, which is scary considering she already led her Terps in points during her freshman year and was named ACC Rookie of the Year that season as well.
Alyssa's inclusion as a 2013 Wade Trophy finalist adds to her already illustrious list of accomplishments and it comes amid a tournament run that has already started to take her notoriety to a new level. If she keeps up her spectacular play when the Terps face No. 1 seed UConn two days from now in Bridgeport, Conn, then, as Frese alluded to after the team's second round beat down of Michigan State, it may just be a matter of time until Thomas receives the same type of attention that Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne and Skylar Diggins have received this entire season.
The Terps and Huskies will square off at 2:30 p.m. this Saturday on ESPN. A couple things Maryland has working in their favor:
1. Momentum - They just beat a 5 seed by 25 - the largest NCAA tournament margin of victory for Maryland in the Alyssa Thomas era, even greater than wins over 15 seed Navy (2011-12), 13 seed Quinnipiac (2012-13) and 13 seed St. Francis (Pa.) (2010-11).
2. History - Brenda Frese is 4-0 as a head coach in Sweet Sixteen games. All four wins have come during her time at Maryland.