Angel Reese and the Maryland women’s basketball team feel they have something to prove.
Reese, the Baltimore sophomore, is part of a collective mindset that the Terrapins have unfinished business from last year when they led the nation in scoring, earned an NCAA Tournament top seed but were upset in the Sweet 16. Universally acknowledged as a top prospect coming in last season, Reese broke her foot in the season’s fourth game, came back by tournament time but certainly wasn’t herself.
“This is kind of my redemption year, last year I don’t really want to count it because I didn’t get to see where I really was,” she said. “It was tough for me. This year was getting my confidence back and I have that myself and from my teammates. That’s what has gotten me here.”
“Here” is 18.2 points and 10.8 rebounds per game, figures that rank eighth and second in the Big Ten, respectively, to go with 1.9 steals (fifth) and 52.4 percent shooting from the field (seventh) for a team now 12-4 overall, 4-1 in the conference and ranked eighth in the country heading into a big showdown at No. 11 Michigan (13-2, 4-1) Jan. 16.
Reese, who missed 14 games in 2020-21, and came back early to help her team, has been possessed so far this campaign. When the incredibly talented, do-it-all dynamo turns up the defensive intensity, like she did in the second half of her team’s 87-73 win at Minnesota Jan. 9, Maryland is more like a top-five team nationally and can play with anyone.
“We need her playing on both ends of the floor,” Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said. “She’s our anchor defensively.”
Often, Reese is so good offensively with that explosiveness to the basket, the ability to beat everyone off the floor for rebounds and with her offensive improvisation, that her defense takes a back seat in fans’ eyes. But Reese on the back line, battling in the paint, is vital to the Terrapins’ again-ascending aspirations.
Against Minnesota, she and power forward Chloe Bibby combined for 42 points and 16 rebounds, hitting 18 of 23 shots. Bibby had 23 in her best game of the season, but Reese posted her 10th double-double of 2021-22 with 19 and 10 to go with three steals. Reese is 21st in the nation in rebounding overall, but her 5.4 caroms on the offensive end is tops in the country.
“Just doing whatever it takes to help my teammates,” said Reese, who is also third nationally with 107 free-throw attempts. “Just rebound and boxing out and trying to get steals. They were getting it to me a lot, and I was just finishing. So just whatever it takes to help the team.”
For someone with such a dazzling skill set it’s significant that Reese gravitates to the more blue-collar bent of banging on the boards. And she comes by it naturally. Her mother, Angel Webb Reese, still holds the UMBC season record with 13.2 rebounds (370 total) in 1991-92, a figure that ranked second in the country that year.
Basically, for two generations, every time an errant shot comes off the rim, an Angel gets her wings.
“When they posted [statistics] and said I led the country in offensive rebounds, my mom said, ‘You get that from your mother,'” the younger Reese said. “I said, ‘Mom, I don’t think so,’ just joking around. Rebounds are important to me because I feel like that’s something a lot of people can’t do. It’s a little piece that is really underappreciated.”
Reese learned an appreciation of the fine art of rebounding early. Small for her size when she first began playing, her mother still emphasized rebounding even for her little Angel, who was then a point guard. As she hit her growth spurt, she had the fundamentals and desire down, then coupled it with an open-court game that makes her a 6-foot-3 phenom.
Reese still puts in the work, too. She sits down regularly with Maryland associate head coach Karen Blair to break down film. Points of emphasis have been avoiding foul trouble and using those outsized talents to put pressure on defenders. It’s no coincidence that all of the Terrapin bigs can board and put the ball on the floor, score inside and out. That’s part of how a team averages a Big Ten-best 83.3 points per game.
At Maryland, where Frese has always championed strong board work — the first step in the next Terrapin fast break — rebounding is essential.
“Coach tells me I’m not a good enough rebounder yet,” Reese said. “She said I can get more and I should be leading the country in rebounds, not just offensive but defensive as well. She is teaching me to not go right to their back but around them with my swim move to get more defensive rebounds.”
Frese has a point. Minnesota outrebounded Maryland, 36-34, and their seven offensive rebounds in the first half kept the Gophers out of too-deep a hole. The Terps are currently fifth in the board-bullying Big Ten in rebounding margin (+6.1), a category they usually lead. It’s one of the issues so far that saw Maryland fall from fourth in the preseason Associated Press poll to as low as 10th last week.
Injuries and illness slowed Maryland in high-profile, shorthanded losses to No. 5 NC State and No. 7 Stanford on neutral courts and then at No. 1 South Carolina. (There’s also a victory against No. 6 Baylor, even without All-Big Ten Diamond Miller.)
“Anytime you have injuries and illness it disrupts your chemistry and your flow with your team,” Frese said. “There were things in the nonconference that we couldn’t predict with Diamond’s injury and illnesses [to Katie Benzan and Faith Masonius] that have taken place. There are positives to see what other players can do and to learn about your team. It’s all great, things that help you when you have a wholly-loaded roster that’s ready to play.”
Miller, who adds the same kind of explosive element on the perimeter alongside Ashley Owusu that Reese brings in the paint, returned to the starting lineup in a 106-78 win against Penn State Jan. 6. Miller had 24 points in 30 minutes, hitting 10 of 13 shots and providing the kind of pressure-on-the-ball defense Maryland had missed with her nursing a knee injury.
Miller has played with Reese and had too much time to just watch her from the sidelines this bust-out season.
“She’s definitely a beast on both sides of the court,” Miller said. “Sometimes she just does stuff other people can’t do. She’s very competitive and we love to have her on our team. I’m so happy she’s on my side and not an opponent.”
But just as the Terrapins were putting the band back together, another key piece in super-sub Masonius tore her left ACL at Big Ten-leading Indiana Jan. 2 and has been lost for the season. A glue piece who filled a variety of roles with array of specialties, Masonius’ absence shortens the bench as Big Ten play heats up.
Frese is on it, already emphasizing conditioning in practices and getting her mainstays ready for more minutes.
“Nowhere near a finished product,” Frese said of her team. “Still trying to get Diamond in shape and a few others with our rotation and bench being limited now. It’s a matter of getting everyone in 40-minute shape.”
The more immediate focus is on the showdown in Ann Arbor, Mich., where reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Naz Hillmon and her 20.0 points, 8.8 rebounds and 56 percent shooting from the field make for a marquee matchup with Reese around the basket. It’s a big game for a lot of reasons.
Reese doesn’t come right out say she was miffed about being left off the preseason all-conference team, but she has certainly played like she is.
“Accolades are nice, and I do think people forgot about me, but I just want to win,” Reese said. “I don’t think I got the respect I deserved because they didn’t see me last year.”
Now, the Big Ten and the rest of the nation can’t miss her.
Photo Credit: Zach Bland/Maryland Athletics