Women’s basketball’s stingy defense awaits explosive Maryland offense in Sweet 16

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The Maryland Terrapins have averaged nearly 92 points per game this season and are the only team in this year's NCAA Tournament with five played, including guard Diamond Miller, who average double-digit scoring (photo courtesy of umterps.com).

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — The adage "good defense beats good offense" is one of the oldest in sports. And it will be put to the test Sunday, when No. 2 seed Maryland, one of the nation's top offensive teams, battles No. 6 seed Texas, one of the best full-court pressing defenses in the country, in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

The game, which tips off at 8 p.m., will be carried on ESPN. Maryland leads the all-time series, 4-1.

"We're just going to focus on playing Texas basketball," Longhorn guard Kyra Lambert said Friday. "That starts on the defensive end. We've been competing defensively and we've gotten better defensively every game, so that's what we're going to do: focus on locking up on the defensive end and our offense will flow from that."

The game amounts to a match up of each team's strengths: the Terrapins, who defeated No. 7 seed Alabama, 100-64, in the second round, average 91.8 points per game have shot 50 percent from the field as a team this season and are the only team in this year's NCAA Tournament with five players averaging 10 or more points per game this season. On the other hand, with its relentless defensive attack, Texas forces an average of 19 turnovers per game, and has forced a total of 551 this season, which ranks fourth in the country.

"We're at a point where we've been through just about everything you can go through, and we accept the challenge," Texas head coach Vic Schaefer said Friday. "I'm sure not a lot of people gave us a chance the other night against UCLA, and yet (we) went out and played really well, especially the first half defensively. The formula doesn't change for us. If we get into a running match and its 100-98, we're going to lose. We're not going to win any game we give up 100 points.

"We've got to really have great concentration defensively on every possession. We can't be out of position at any time against this group because they can all score it. They've got five players in double figures."

Maryland's offensive attack begins behind the arc, led by Harvard transfer Katie Benzan. After fter four years at Harvard, the sharpshooter declared her intention to play for Texas, before opting to play at Maryland, instead. In what will be her lone season with the Terrapins, Benzan has shot 51 percent from three-point range, which leads the nation, though she scored just nine points in Maryland's victory over Alabama.

"She's had a great year and she's a big reason for their success," Schaefer said of Benzan. "You've got to guard her when she gets off the bus. Happy for her. I don't know her personally. I think those decisions were made long before I got there or as soon as I got there. We never had a conversation. I think I got a voicemail from maybe her father that said she was going to do something else. Sometimes those things happen."

Though Schaefer may not have been able to bring Benzan to Austin, he did land Lambert and forward Lauren Ebo as transfers. Against UCLA, as Charli Collier got into foul trouble, Ebo played nearly 30 minutes, and scored seven points with six rebounds.

"Lauren is a good player, and she's going to be great for us," Schaefer said when asked about Ebo after the UCLA win. "I love how she plays. She reminds me so much of a player in the Big 12 that played at OU a few years ago that was just a monster. She was a great one. You can't move (her), and she's got a nose for the ball."

Lambert, from San Antonio, took over as the team's starting point guard upon her return from injury in early December and has been one of UT's most consistent guards, averaging 30 minutes per game with an assist-to-turnover ratio of five to one.

"It's really special, to be away five years, to go through what that kid had to go through with her injuries and be out on the east coast to be back closer to home where her family can see her play," Schaefer said of Lambert. "I'd hate to think where we'd be without her."

"It's such a blessing to be back home," Lambert said. "I honestly could not have written a better story."

Schaefer has led a program to the Sweet 16 in each of the last five NCAA Tournaments, with three of the first four at Mississippi State reaching the Elite Eight.

Riley Zayas

Riley Zayas is a high school sophomore and freelance journalist from Round Rock, Texas. He began his journalism career as a Sports Illustrated Kids reporter and has since become a regular contributor to Horns Illustrated, covering Texas Longhorn sports. His work also includes Fellowship of Christian Athletes publications, College Baseball Nation and Sports Spectrum, a national christian sports website. He currently serves as the Managing Editor of True To The Cru, covering UMHB athletics. Twitter: @ZayasRiley

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