Frese prepares for March Madness reunion with alma mater

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — Before she became a national title-winning basketball coach at Maryland, Brenda Frese played at Arizona and earned a communications degree there 30 years ago.

“We're doing a college reunion in May, where a lot of us are coming together,” Frese said.

First, Frese will have another kind of reunion with her alma mater, and expect her to be all business for this one. Her second-seeded Terrapins host seventh-seeded Arizona on Sunday in the women's NCAA Tournament with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line.

“I do know one of my closest friends, my mom was sharing today, had already posted on Facebook today that she was rooting for Maryland — and where people needed to be at,” Frese said.

The Terps (26-6) are trying for their 11th Sweet 16 appearance under Frese and third in a row. To accomplish that, they'll have to beat an Arizona team that made it all the way to the national title game two years ago under another alum, Adia Barnes.

The Wildcats (22-9) lost three straight before beating West Virginia in their March Madness opener Friday. They looked pretty sharp in that game and certainly could be more dangerous than their seeding suggests. However, the challenge of playing on the road against Maryland is real.

“I think as you progress through the tournament, you have to raise your game up a notch, just because teams get better, competition's better,” said Barnes, who graduated from Arizona in 1998. “We're playing at Maryland, they're a really good team, and they're different, we're not as familiar with them. So I think when I mean raise it up, it’s be more on point on the road defensively."

The Terrapins are 3-0 against Arizona, and the meetings were during Frese's tenure but a while ago. Maryland beat the Wildcats in January of 2005, then in December of ’05 during the Terps’ national championship season. Maryland won another meeting in November of 2006.

This year's Terrapins are led by star guard Diamond Miller, and they can press, force turnovers and push the pace. Arizona would love to disrupt those plans, but it won't be easy.

“They play really fast, they shoot the ball really well,” Barnes said. “We have to be able to score, so they're not in transition, and I think for us, we can't take really fast shots.”

The Wildcats played a key stretch against West Virginia without guard Shaina Pellington, who was in foul trouble. Arizona actually went on a run without her, re-taking control of the game after the Mountaineers had cut into an early gap.

Maryland scored the first 14 points of its first-round win against Holy Cross, so the Wildcats will try to avoid that kind of start in a tough environment.

“We’re the underdog, and I think usually the underdogs have the more — they’re able to play better just because they don’t have as much pressure,” Arizona guard Lauren Fields said. “So I think we can use that to our advantage going into this game, and I think we just got to come out and play hard, and I think we will get the win.”

Arizona was a No. 3 seed in 2021 when it went all the way to the championship game before losing by a point to Stanford. Maryland exited in the Sweet 16 that season, but Frese said she pulled for the Wildcats during their run.

As for whether her Arizona friends will reciprocate this weekend, that's still a little unclear.

“There's a group of us as teammates," Frese said. "I haven't had time yet to hit the chat yet, who they're all rooting for.”

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Follow Noah Trister at https://twitter.com/noahtrister

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AP March Madness coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25