COLLEGE PARK, Md. – During Maryland’s first-round NCAA Tournament game against Quinnipiac on Saturday, ESPN2 flashed an interesting graphic onto the screen.
It showed a side-by-side comparison of statistics this season between the Terrapins’ versatile standout forward Alyssa Thomas and another superstar known for being multi-talented: Miami Heat forward LeBron James.
And the comparison wasn’t as outlandish as it might sound as Thomas averages 18.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game — the conference leader in all three categories — all while handling part-time point guard duties.
Thomas, the two-time Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, is the catalyst for a Maryland (25-7 overall) team that will try to push the tempo as it tangles with MSU on its home floor in the second round of the Big Dance at 7 p.m. tonight on ESPN2.
MSU (25-8) head coach Suzy Merchant said Sunday that the rigors of the Big Ten this season prepared the Spartans to welcome any kind of style Maryland wants to bring to the table.
“We’ve played some track meets as well. I mean our kids are athletic and they run — we’re not slow by any stretch of the means,” Merchant said. “Our bigs can go, our guards can go. So I feel like our team can handle both situations. … I’m just more interested in making sure that everyone is guarded — especially that Thomas kid.”
The soon-to-be conference-rival Terrapins are 2-0 all-time against MSU heading into tonight’s game.
Maryland coach Brenda Frese called her squad “mirror images” of MSU in the sense that both teams have withstood a troubling amount of injuries this season. The Spartans have four players who could have contributed, but are sidelined with injuries, while Maryland lost three players — including its starting backcourt — just weeks into the season.
“Obviously from both teams, they’re terrific stories,” Frese said. “And it says a lot about the student-athletes involved in both programs in terms of not using injuries as an excuse and overcoming adversity.”
Thomas isn’t a one-man band for Maryland, however, as frontcourt mate Tianna Hawkins averages 18.4 points and 9.8 rebounds per contest. Thomas or Hawkins have led or been co-leaders in scoring in all but two games for the Terrapins in this season.
“For us, we face a lot of teams that might have one kid that’s (averaging) a double-double, but never really two,” Merchant said. “So they present a lot of challenges just in the way that those two kids play. And the kids around them are very, very good and capable players as well.”
It will be a clash of styles on the Comcast Center floor with the dynamic frontcourt of Maryland that prefers an up-and-down game, compared to the defensive-savvy Spartans, who have made a living all season by shutting down their opponent’s best players.
Tonight, two injury-ridden teams will battle to play another day. For senior guard Jasmine Thomas, she said the tank is nowhere near empty with the stakes this high, despite logging almost the entire 40 minutes nearly every game.
“Aside from being captains, seniors as well, we kind of know … the urgency it takes and determination to go out there and play each and every game,” Thomas said of her and fellow senior Courtney Schiffauer.
“Just to get everybody on the same page, we know what we’re here to do. I feel like everybody is on the same page, and we just have to have contributions from everybody.”