The University of Maryland has long been known as a basketball school. The state's largest institution has earned that moniker because of the extensive record of success by its men's and women's basketball teams. A surprising run to the NCAA Final Four by the women's team, and the election of former head men's basketball coach Gary Williams to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame have enhanced that reputation and made it another memorable winter in College Park.
The Terrapin women concluded a special season with their first appearance in the NCAA Final Four in eight years. The 2005-06 NCAA championship team featured some of the best players in the school's basketball history, including Crystal Langhorne, Marissa Coleman, Laura Harper and Kristi Toliver.
The 2013-14 Terrapins relied on a singular talent. Senior forward Alyssa Thomas was Maryland's heart and soul, leading the team in scoring (19.0 points per game), rebounding (10.9) and steals (1.6), and placing second with 4.1 assists per game. Thomas, whose jersey number was raised to the rafters of the Comcast Center in early March, closed her four years as the top scorer and rebounder in Maryland history. Thomas' career totals of 2,356 points and 1,235 rebounds are all-time records for both the Maryland men's and women's basketball programs, breaking the previous marks held by Juan Dixon (2,269 points from 1998-2002) and Langhorne (1,229 rebounds from 2004-08).
On its way to a 28-7 record, Maryland stayed in the national top 10 for most of the season. The campaign began Nov. 8 with a 78-70 victory at South Florida. One week later, Maryland faced a tough test when the University of Connecticut came to College Park. Despite a 72-55 loss to the Huskies, the 2013-14 NCAA champions, the Terrapins provided an early indication that they could compete with any team in the nation.
Coach Brenda Frese's squad started 2014 with a road win against Elite Eight participant North Carolina. The Terrapins weathered a three-game losing streak to Atlantic Coast Conference foes Virginia, Notre Dame and North Carolina State in late January, and closed the regular season with eight wins out of their last nine games.
A quarterfinal setback to North Carolina during the ACC tournament dropped Maryland to the fourth seed in the Louisville Regional. The Terrapins followed first- and second-round NCAA tournament wins against Army and Texas with a Sweet 16 defeat of Tennessee, which sent them to the Elite Eight for the second time during the past three seasons. Maryland grabbed a solid lead against host Louisville, then held off a late Cardinal rally to earn a Final Four berth.
The Terrapins had nearly beaten Notre Dame Jan. 27 in College Park, but the Fighting Irish left no doubt at the Final Four. Then-undefeated Notre Dame ended Maryland's tournament run with an 87-61 rout, as Maryland closed its run in the ACC with a loss to the league's newest member.
Maryland will begin life without its most accomplished player in a new conference in November. As the Big Ten era dawns, Thomas will depart along with fellow starters Alicia DeVaughn and Katie Rutan. But the Terrapins will take a solid nucleus into the new league, including three players who excelled during their freshmen campaigns. Lexie Brown (10.1 points, team-leading 4.3 assists per game) and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (9.3 points, 2.9 rebounds) will lead a strong backcourt. Brionna Jones, a forward who started 14 games as a freshman, averaged 6.9 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.
Maryland men's basketball coach Gary Williams is on a roll. A former Maryland player and the winningest coach in the school's athletic history, Williams was selected to the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame March 25. His election to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame was announced before the NCAA men's championship game April 7.
Williams is the first coach to be inducted into both of the major basketball shrines during the same year. Joining Williams, a 1968 Maryland graduate, will be coaches Nolan Richardson and Bob Leonard and several players, including former Georgetown great Alonzo Mourning, ex-Washington Wizard Mitch Richmond, Nat Clifton, Sarunas Marciulionis and Guy Rodgers. Recently retired NBA commissioner David Stern and the Immaculata University national championship women's teams of the early 1970s will also be inducted Aug. 8 in Springfield, Mass.
After successful head coaching stops at American, Boston College and Ohio State, Williams returned to his alma mater in 1989 and resurrected a slumping Maryland basketball program. During his 22 years in College Park, Williams guided the Terrapins to a 461-252 record and 11 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances from 1994-2004. His Maryland teams made consecutive Final Four appearances in 2001 and 2002. Williams, who retired in 2011, earned National Coach of the Year honors after leading the 2001-02 Terrapins to the only NCAA men's basketball title in school history.