There are a lot of ways Maryland women’s basketball can be better in 2021-22 than they were last year — and yes, that’s saying something for the seventh-ranked, 26-3 Terrapins — but one of the ways folks may not be thinking about is a healthy Angel Reese running the floor and causing havoc.

Reese, the rising sophomore from Baltimore, missed half of last season with a broken foot, and though she came back to play in the postseason, she didn’t have all her game with her, still shaking off the rust after missing so much time. But Reese was a key part of a strong showing by the Terrapins, at least three of them at a time, at the 2021 Red Bull USA Basketball 3X Nationals at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., June 12-13.

“Angel was a huge presence when she was on the floor,” said Maryland associate head coach Karen Blair, who accompanied the team to Springfield. “Defensively, she was a great rim protector. She brings that confidence and swagger when she’s on the floor. She changes people’s shots, and not just that but her rebounding, something that she does better than most. Her rebounding is a big key of the success we had that weekend. She did a great job of giving us second-chance opportunities and kicking out and finding our shooters on the perimeter.”

The Maryland 3×3 team of Reese, Katie Benzan, Mimi Collins and Faith Masonius finished second overall, claiming the silver medal in the eight-team event, the highest finish for any college entry. Power programs Oregon, Louisville, NC State and Kansas State were also invited, competing with “pro” teams, all vying for the 3×3 national championship, ultimately won by Force 10 with a 16-10 win against Maryland in the medal game.

The competition was also this summer’s final evaluation of athletes for selection to future U.S. women’s 3×3 international competition, something that appeals to the highly regarded Reese, already set to compete for the USA U-19 team later this summer at the FIBA World Cup.

“I like 3-on-3, it’s much faster, a quicker game,” Reese said. “I felt like it’s more quick-striking. You need to have quick plays and think on the fly, things I like a lot.”

The game is played half court with a 10-minute clock and a 12-second shot clock. The first team to 21 points, or the team in the lead at the end of regulation, is the winner. One of the tricks is that the shot clock begins on the next possession as soon as the ball goes through the net and the scoring team has to get the ball beyond the 3-point line to initiate a possession. Baskets inside the line are one point, outside are two points, and defending perimeter shooters is vital. With only three players per side, there’s a lot more space to operate 1-on-1.

Most players find this game is more strenuous and taxing than full court 5-on-5.

The four participants had less than two weeks to prepare from their invitation, so Blair got the team ready in College Park. Coaches aren’t formally allowed to participate during the games. It’s all on the players and that was at first challenging for the brand new Terps 3×3 team.

“Day One [at the tournament] for them was adjusting to the pace and dealing with the different strategies,” said Blair, who could assist between games. “They learned about using fouls to get rest or make a substitution, things they had to feel out as they went.”

“Coach Blair gave us a couple of plays, but I didn’t know she couldn’t coach us until the day of,” laughed Reese. “We had to do it. We had to just be very honest with ourselves when we had to make substitutions — when we needed shooters out there or when we needed a bigger lineup and had to take [5-foot-6 Katie Benzan] out. It was just being really smart when you had to change up.”

Basketball fans will get a closer look at 3×3 as part of this summer’s Tokyo Olympics, part of the games for the first time. Team USA’s entry is already set with WNBA stars Stefanie Dolson, Katie Lou Samuelson, Kelsey Plum and Allisha Gray. Alexandria, Va., product Kara Lawson, now the coach at Duke, is the team’s coach.

As for Maryland’s team, they prepared going against other Terps still on campus this summer like Chloe Bibby and Zoe Young as well as several men who volunteered. Stars Ashley Owusu and Diamond Miller were both helping USA Basketball win gold at the AmeriCup Tournament in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Rising sophomore guard Taisiya Kozlova was back in Russia playing with her national team as Brenda Frese’s team was again well-represented in summer international competition.

Those traveling Terrapins had an easier time than their teammates at the 3×3 tournament. Maryland didn’t win a game the first day in pool play before getting the hang of things. The Terps lost those three games by a combined total of five points, and again showed a penchant for putting the ball in the basket, something they did frequently during the 2020-21 season as the nation’s highest scoring team (90.8 points per game).

“We didn’t win any games the first day,” Reese said. “We went 0-3 and it was like, ‘Guys, this is Maryland. This isn’t what we do. This isn’t how we play.’ We were the highest-scoring team there. We lost three games the first day and we were still the highest-scoring team.”

Angel Reese
Angel Reese (Photo Credit: Courtesy of USA Basketball)

Reese said they had to change their mindset.

“When we were playing as the highest scoring team in the country and the Big Ten, we still had to play defense. That was our key thing playing the next day in the semifinals and then the finals: we had to play defense,” Reese said. “We knew the scoring was coming but playing defense against other college teams like Oregon and then against [pro 3×3 team] Legacy, we knew we had to play defense and rebound. We passed the ball quickly.”

Blair said they were a different team the next day. She saw the unselfish play that was the 2020-21 team’s trademark and more commitment on defense.

“Quite honestly, they showed up and played the physical game we’re used to seeing — the one we see when they’re playing 5-on-5,” Blair said. “They were rebounding the ball and defending at a really high level. I think they took their experience from Day One and really turned the corner.”

Maryland won a 10-9 thriller against Legacy to open elimination play, then took down Oregon 19-14 in the semifinals to avenge an opening-day loss. The Terrapins led in the championship game but ultimately fell to Force 10, another pro team that regularly competes together in tournaments.

Next up for Saint Frances product Reese is the USA U19 team, which will train in Washington, D.C., before heading off to the 2021 FIBA World Cup in early August in Hungary. Reese is expected to be a key contributor. She played in 15 games as a freshman at Maryland last year, averaging 10 points, six rebounds and shooting 47 percent from the field, but her ceiling seems much higher, something also true for the Terrapins as a team, looking ahead.

Maryland will return all five starters next year and add in versatile 6-foot-2 inside-outside Swiss import Emma Chardon and 6-foot-2, four-star Ohio guard Shyanne Sellers. The Terps will return veteran guard Channise Lewis from knee surgery and hopefully, a healthy Reese, who certainly seems to be trending that way.

“I’m just trying to play as much as I can and staying in shape, making sure I’m as healthy as possible,” said the 6-foot-3 Reese, who is 100 percent recovered from her broken foot. “I’m working on finishing [shots around the basket]. I didn’t show everything I could do last year. In the beginning I could get a rebound and push it down the court. I want to do that more and hit more mid-range shots. I want to be versatile, guarding the five or the four or whatever we need. I just want to keep adding to my game.”

Mike Ashley

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