Maryland's Thomas stays humble

South Bend Tribune

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Plenty of accolades have come the way of Alyssa Thomas in her four seasons at Maryland.

The women’s basketball media guide is littered with records and awards attached to her career.

On Sunday, Thomas will fill one of the biggest holes in her resume with a Final Four appearance.

“It feels great to be here with our team and it feels amazing to be able to bring AT (Alyssa Thomas) to the Final Four,” said Maryland head coach Brenda Frese. “If we wouldn't have been able to do that, I think personally I would have felt regrets as a coach not being able to get her here. She's a phenomenal person, even a better family when you talk about her parents, and she deserves every single moment of this.”

The Terrapins last reached the Final Four in 2006, which ended with a national championship. Maryland had only reached the Elite Eight once (2012) since Thomas joined the program.

“I think the biggest thing is to experience this with my teammates,” Thomas said. “I've been saying it for the longest that I just want them to be here with me. I'm really excited that I finally get to be on the playing side of the Final Four.”

Earlier this year, Thomas won the ACC Player of the Year Award for the third time. Only Duke’s Alana Beard previously accomplished such a feat. Her season averages sit at 19 points and 11 rebounds per game. She’s registered less than a double-double only six times in 34 games this season.

Still, she insists her team is much more than a 6-foot-2 senior forward from Harrisburg, Pa.

“I think I'm just a player on the team,” Thomas said. “We have plenty of people that can score on our team. I think we've proved it throughout this tournament that it's not just all about me.”

The Terrapins (28-6) knocked off No. 1 seed Tennessee and No. 3 seed Louisville in their region to earn the matchup with undefeated Notre Dame. The winning streak came following an ACC Tournament quarterfinals loss to North Carolina in the only conference tournament game for Maryland.

“We had the two weeks to refocus ourselves and get ourselves back on track,” Thomas said. “And we're peaking at the right time. We're playing our best basketball when it matters, and this is what people are going to remember.”

Party crashers

A Notre Dame and UConn championship matchup still holds luster without Natalie Achonwa for the Irish. Many want to see the two undefeated teams face off for the title. Don’t include Brenda Frese in that group.

“To some extent, I feel like Maryland and Stanford are the extras at the Miss USA pageant,” said Maryland’s head coach. “Everybody's rooting for the other two. Our job is to be able to crash the party.”

Alyssa Thomas hears the talk, too.

“That's what everybody expects is for them to be undefeated and to meet up with each other,” Thomas said. “But, I mean, we're here to crash the party. I know Stanford is too. I talked to Chiney (Ogwumike), and we're just here to crash the party.”

In order to do so, the Terrapins will have to slow down Notre Dame’s backcourt duo of Jewell Loyd and Kayla McBride, something they failed to do in a January 87-83 loss to the Irish.

“Notre Dame has the best one-two punch in the country when you talk about Loyd and McBride,” Frese said. “They've been devastating all season. No one's been able to stop them, including us.”

Frese does see the familiarity of playing Notre Dame as an advantage.

“I think it gives your team a great comfort level so you don't spend the first 10 or 15 minutes feeling out a team you've never played,” Frese said. “But I'm sure both teams feel that way. So now you have to kind of figure out what's going to be the difference in a game that could come down to possessions. It's critical in terms of your play calls, your defenses, your strategy. How can you kind of separate yourself within some possessions?”

Cracker Barrel


The memory is a bit fuzzy, but it’s one of the things that Brenda Frese remembers when thinking of Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw.

A few years ago, the two ran into each other at a Cracker Barrel between AAU games the two were scouting in Murfreesboro, Tenn. McGraw asked Frese to join her table.

Frese couldn’t remember who picked up the tab, but she left with a good story.

“I just remember at that time just appreciating it,” Frese said. “That's what it's about in women's basketball and as coaches in terms of our bond with each other in the profession.”

Healthier Tyler

In December, Brenda Frese’s five-year-old son, Tyler Thomas, went through his last dose of chemotherapy after three years of treatment for pre-B cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.

Returning to the Final Four in the same season that her son finished his treatments is a culmination of an exceptional year for Frese.

“This is something that everyone aspires to achieve, and personally it's been such a phenomenal year when you talk about our son Tyler receiving his last dose of chemotherapy and then being able to reach the Final Four with our team,” Frese said. “It's a special year for all of us.”

While Notre Dame's seniors will be participating in their fourth Final Four in as many years, this will be the first for Maryland standout Alyssa Thomas. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN).
Maryland's Alyssa Thomas, left, at practice during the NCAA Women's Final Four media day events on Saturday, April 5, 2014, inside Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN