College Park, MD -- One of the top awards any college basketball player dreams of is the John R. Wooden award. This accolade goes to the most outstanding basketball player in the country in both the men and women’s game, and even being considered is a great honor. On Wednesday afternoon, two Maryland players moved one step closer to receiving that accolade—and anyone familiar with Terps basketball will not be surprised.
Juniors Brionna Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough were both named to the Late Season Top 20 Watch List before their game against the University of Michigan Wolverines on Wednesday night.
"I think it’s such a great honor to be on that list of names with all the other great athletes around the country," Jones said. "I’m just really excited to be able to help my team and move forward from here going into the postseason."
During the game, Jones proved exactly why she is on that list. The 6’3" junior center from Havre de Grace, Maryland, is a force to be reckoned with down low. In Big Ten Play, Jones averages 15.5 points and 10.8 rebounds a night.
While Jones is a full-blown star in the world of women’s college basketball, what makes her so unique is her attitude. She plays with hustle and passion but at the same time, exhibits a shyness off of the court when talking to the press.
She is also quicker to talk about her teammates than herself. Jones recorded 20 points and nabbed eight rebounds on Wednesday night, but still credited her teammates, further enforcing the family atmosphere in College Park.
"My teammates found me when I was open. They were doubling and triple teaming me at the beginning I would kick it out, they would find me, and I would cut again. So I think we just worked together, and they fed me the ball when I was open."
And against Michigan, her money time performance was more valuable than can be explained, and also helped to wear down the Wolverines, according to Michigan head coach Kim Barnes.
"Brionna Jones just wore us down down the stretch like she did the first time [we played Maryland] and really showed why she’s one of the best players in the country," she said following the loss.
While Jones shined against Michigan, Walker-Kimbrough struggled on the offensive end. She was held to just nine points on the night, her lowest scoring outing of the season—which made Jones’ performance all the more important. Head coach Brenda Frese recognized the responsibility her stars must shoulder while also noting that other players were able to step up.
"No question, when you’re a great player comes great responsibility, and Shatori and Bri bring that on a consistent basis," Frese said. "I thought it was a tough night for Shatori, but I think we’ve grown as a team to know we’ve got to have other players step up, and we were able to do that."
While Maryland has two legitimate All-Americans on their team, their depth and versatility on the court are what make them a successful team. And it’s obvious to anyone who watches Maryland play that Jones adds to that versatility with a phenomenally strong inside game.
"It changes the game, and I think that’s something that’s special about our team. Maybe the guards are having a rough night, and the posts will step up," sophomore Kristen Confroy said.
"We do a really good job of playing in-out-in. If we’re open the guards will kick it inside, but if we are getting doubled we’ll kick it back out, and so I think that’s the great thing about our team," senior Malina Howard added.
The Terps looked like they were playing a step behind out of the gate against Michigan, but with a few key baskets, Jones pulled the Terps within three numerous times in the first quarter. Defensively, the Terps seemed to get some fire behind them when Walker-Kimbrough recorded a key block on a fast break with just under fifteen seconds in the first quarter.
As Maryland came back, they seemed to frustrate the Wolverines on both sides of the court. The second quarter remained all about paint points for both teams (the Terps had 12 in the second quarter alone). The Terps seemed to find their footing midway through the third quarter, especially with their inside attack that included six paint points from Jones.
The Terps pulled ahead by 15 points in the fourth quarter, it became apparent that their aggressive play had worn down Michigan, and they would walk away with the 76-56 win. While it was a relatively lower scoring affair for the Terps, Jones said their fundamentals are the reason they won.
"I think getting stops and working to get the rebound and then getting out in transition, that's how we play Maryland basketball, and that’s what our goal was," Jones said.
In the world of women’s college basketball, there are certain teams that garner most of the attention. And while no one disputes the legacies of powerhouse programs like UConn or Tennessee, there are plenty who overlook the Maryland Terps.
However, players like Jones show why this program cannot be overlooked. There are still a few weeks to go before the Wooden Award winner is announced, and you would be a fool to overlook Jones after her performances this year.