Commentary

Thomas a bigger leader for Terps

Originally Published: November 8, 2012
By Mechelle Voepel | espnW

ThomasCal Sport Media Alyssa Thomas helped Maryland go 31-5 last season and reach the Elite Eight.

Maryland's women's hoops team caught a tough break before this season even started: Point guard Brene Moseley suffered a torn ACL and is out for the year. But Terrapins coach Brenda Frese doesn't have to look far to see that it could be a lot worse. Take the misfortune with Maryland's football team.

No, we're not talking about the fact that gridiron Terps have been wearing some the most garish uniforms in the history of organized sports. We mean their bizarre quarterback crisis: The Terps have lost four football players to injury -- three of them had ACL tears -- as well as another who transferred in the offseason.

Now Maryland doesn't have any eligible quarterbacks on scholarship left. So this past Saturday, linebacker Shawn Petty -- who had last played QB in high school -- was the guy taking the snaps.

"We were just talking about that," Frese said recently. "When you're a coach, you're often in your own bubble. But I realized they literally have gone through all their quarterbacks."

So in comparison, it doesn't sound as dire to have lost one point guard to graduation (Anjale Barrett) and her projected replacement as a starter (Moseley) to injury. Although Maryland got more bad news Wednesday with the confirmed ACL injury of reserve center Essence Townsend, who was injured Monday. It leaves the Terps with just nine players.

But it helps when you're relentlessly optimistic, which Frese always is, and you have a player such as Alyssa Thomas.

The 6-foot-2 Thomas is listed as a forward, but she has the skills to actually help out with the point-guard chores when needed. And she definitely has the mentality. Plus, she has expanded her offensive repertoire overall.

"I've worked on my jump shot and extending my range, so the defense has to play me honestly," Thomas said. "I don't want to be thought of as only a slasher who attacks the rim."

Last year, Thomas led the Terps in scoring (17.2 ppg) but also had their second-most assists: 113, to just 85 turnovers.

"She's really strong and powerful coming down the floor," Frese said of Thomas, who was the 2012 ACC player of the year. "The difference for her as a junior is she really knows how to make the right pass to the right person. And she's also a difficult matchup to have to defend [at the point]. Now with the body control that she has, she's pretty special to watch."

Most of Maryland's point-guard duties, though, will go to another junior: 6-foot Laurin Mincy. She was the team's second-leading scorer last season (13.1 ppg) and really didn't play point guard. But Frese, even before losing Moseley, was working with Mincy on the floor general's role.

"She's really good at it," Frese said of Mincy, who had 74 assists to 69 turnovers as a sophomore. "She's very versatile. I feel like she has a tremendous opportunity. And we'll obviously have some 'point guard by committee.'"

Chloe Pavich is one of the rookies expected to sometimes be in the driver's seat. Meanwhile, Katie Rutan, a transfer from Xavier who's eligible this season at Maryland, is expected to play a good deal at shooting guard.

"She naturally is allowing us to do things because of how she can shoot the basketball," Frese said of Rutan. "It gives us some great weapons with Mincy, Rutan and Thomas having that scoring punch on the perimeter."

[+] EnlargeLaurin Mincy
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeLaurin Mincy tallied 21 points and 12 rebounds as the Terps rallied past Texas A&M.

It also helps to have someone as accurate inside as 6-3 senior post Tianna Hawkins, who led Division I women's hoops in field goal percentage (.623) last season.

"What separates her is she never takes a bad shot," Frese said. "She's a relentless rebounder. She likes to play physical. She has transformed her game and body, and has put herself in contention to play at the next level."

Hawkins, who averaged 12 points and 9.1 rebounds last season, said that she and the rest of the Terps post players have to do their part to make things easier on whoever is playing point guard.

"Just by being more vocal on the floor," Hawkins said. "And most definitely rebounding to give my team second-chance opportunities.

"With my experience, I have a lot to share with my teammates. Let them know everything is OK and just help them keep their composure."

Frese is expecting a lot of leadership from Thomas this year, too. The Terps tended to refer to Thomas as the "silent assassin" during her first two seasons, because she was somewhat quietly becoming one of the nation's top players. But she's no longer sneaking up on anyone.

Frese said that the way Thomas bounced back after missing most of the preseason also makes her stand out from the norm. Near the end of the summer, Thomas displayed symptoms of what was initially thought to be mononucleosis. She ended up having her tonsils removed, and didn't return to action until just before the official start of practice in October.

"She's the only player I know who can miss about two months between summer and fall, and it seems like in about two days, she gets her conditioning back," Frese said, chuckling.

"She's one of the most competitive players I've coached, but she doesn't let her competitiveness ever be a negative. When she can lock in and focus, she can do anything."

How about the Terps themselves: What can they do this season? They are one of two teams in the ACC picked in the preseason top five, along with Duke. Last year, Maryland was 31-5 overall, finished 12-4 in the ACC, and won the league tournament. Then they beat Navy, Louisville and Texas A&M in the NCAA tournament before totally running out of gas against Notre Dame in the Elite Eight, 80-49.

"We love the battles that have come down to us and Duke for so many years; those are tremendous matchups," Frese said of the Terps' chief league rival. "And although some of the teams in the ACC are young, you know you're going to get everybody's best shot.

"We go to 18 conference games this season, so that will be an adjustment. For a lot of teams, you're already seeing it's going to be health that's a big issue: Who can stay the most injury-free."

The Terps hope they've already used up their bad luck in that regard.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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