There were a handful of questions on Lynetta Kizer’s mind as her Maryland team bused over from its breakfast at the Marriott Inn & Conference Center to Comcast Center on Saturday morning, arriving for the start of another NCAA tournament not long after dawn.
Among them: What time is it? What should I expect from 15th-seeded Navy? How do I make an 11:15 a.m. tip-off feel like it’s 7 p.m.?
Soon after the morning’s first whistle, another arose: What are we doing?
The second-seeded Terps’ wake-up call came soon enough, but not until early struggles had blighted an opening-round 59-44 win over the Midshipmen. Two weeks removed from its last action in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, Maryland was slow on defense and sloppy on offense as it sleepwalked through the early stages of its first meeting with Navy (18-14).
That ultimately mattered little to the more talented Terps (29-4), who will host No. 7 seed Louisville on Monday night.
“When tip-off comes, you’ve got to be ready to go, no matter what time it is,” guard Anjalé Barrett said, “especially in tournament time.”
The points and the pressure eventually came, as tends to be the case with a team led by ACC Player of the Year Alyssa Thomas. The sophomore forward powered a 20-6 run midway through the second half that distanced the Terps from the Patriot League champions, finishing with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Guard Laurin Mincy (14 points) was the only other Maryland player to finish in double figures on a day the team shot 37.9 percent from the field and proved surprisingly ineffectual inside.
“At 11:15, we had to have a mindset that we were tipping at 7 [p.m.],” coach Brenda Frese said. “I thought, walking into pre-game breakfast, this team was ready to play. If anything, because they are such great kids and teammates, we were just too uptight.”
A week after daylight savings time began, the Terps found themselves again setting back their internal clocks before an eighth straight win was theirs. Anticipating the pre-noon start the next day, Frese held an early practice Friday and reminded her players not to nap before bedtime. Kizer, for one, was asleep by 9 p.m. that night, up at 6:45 a.m. the next morning and off for an early breakfast in a few hours’ time.
After a light offering of eggs and omelets, the team was back on its home court, shooting jumpers and taking layups just as some fellow classmates recovering from a sleepless week of midterms were surely waking up.
“It was definitely really weird,” said Kizer, who had four rebounds and helped the Terps finish with more boards on the defensive end (34) than Navy had overall (33).
Whether it was because the Terps needed another cup of coffee or just another game in between Saturday’s win and their March 4 ACC championship, they looked equal parts groggy and rusty as Navy raced to an early 10-6 lead. Only after two straight 3-pointers from guard Kim Rodgers late in the first half did the Terps give themselves a 23-17 lead and a listless crowd of an announced 5,624 something to cheer about.
They pushed their lead to 31-23 by intermission, extended it to 45-30 eight minutes into the second half and had it at 57-36 as Thomas reached, then eclipsed 1,000 points for her career.
By then, Maryland was wide awake, collecting what it wanted on the glass and playing at a breakneck pace that Frese said was “was more indicative of how we play.” And, with tip-off scheduled for 7 p.m., the Terps won’t have to worry about timing when they get a shot at their first Sweet 16 in three years Monday against Louisville.
Still, as Kizer pointed out, “We’ve got to come out and play, regardless of the time and the setting or whatever the case may be.”