Everything Brenda Frese does is done with March in mind.

That's the goal, the objective. The end date for everything Frese does as the coach of the Maryland women's basketball team. When you've had the sustained success Frese has had, an NCAA bid is more of a stepping stone. A deep tournament run is expected.

"It's exciting," Frese said Thursday. It was just hours before the Terrapins, with Diamond Miller back healthy and returning to peak form, put a 28-point beating on Penn State. It was just days before Maryland would come to Williams Arena — where Frese spent one season coaching a surging team led by Lindsay Whalen — to play the Gophers on Sunday.

"I love the fact that's what we've built here," Frese said. "For us it's a disappointment if we're not playing in the last weekend. Our players, when they come to Maryland, it's a different mentality. A standard, and a bar, has been set."


With the 2022 NCAA Final Four scheduled at Target Center, there are a handful of programs around the country who started this season regarding a berth in that event as, if not an expectation, at least more than a possibility.

South Carolina. Stanford. Louisville. Arizona, to name a few. Connecticut (when healthy). Louisville.

And Maryland.

Which is why everything Frese does is done with the idea of peaking in March, when the NCAA tournament begins, and in early April, when the Final Four commences. Not at the start of the season. Not in January, February.

Different approach

For example: Unlike many programs, Frese does not overtrain her players during the summer. Time is spent working on skills, staying fresh.

"It's a long season," said Frese, 51. "You have to be smart about it."

And: scheduling.

To be fair, the idea of scheduling high-profile nonconference opponents is catching on around the country. But Maryland has been doing it for a while. Frese doesn't want to load up on easy nonconference victories. She wants her team seasoned, even if that means a few early losses.

This season, the Terrapins are 11-4. Not overly impressive on the surface, until you consider those losses came to North Carolina State, Stanford, South Carolina and, in overtime last weekend, against Indiana. Four teams currently in the top six in the Associated Press poll.

Three of those losses came with Miller — the team's leader — out because of a knee injury. The Terrapins beat Baylor (currently ranked 14th) with Miller. But the losses to N.C. State, Stanford and South Carolina were without her.

But that's OK, Frese said.

"We didn't anticipate having our best player out in those games, but it does prepare everyone else," Frese said. "We want to be prepared for March. There is not a better teacher than experience, and going through it."

Frese has been through it. She has been AP Coach of the Year twice: last year, and in 2002 with the Gophers.

Hired out of Ball State to replace the fired Cheryl Littlejohn when she was called Brenda Oldfield, she led the Gophers to a 22-8 record and the second round of the NCAA tournament at age 31. After that one season, Frese left for Maryland, then in the Atlantic Coast Conference. It was a controversial move, at least in Minnesota.

The Terrapins made the tournament in her second season. Two years later, in the spring of 2006, Maryland won it all. Since then, Maryland has been to the tournament every year but one, advancing to two more Final Fours. Three other years ended in the Elite Eight, three more in the Sweet 16.

Frese was 306-61 while Maryland was in the ACC. Since moving to the Big Ten in 2014, the Terrapins are 216-33 overall and 109-13 in conference play and have won or tied for first in the regular-season standings six of seven years.

Those early-season losses to the cream of the women's basketball crop? Should the Terrapins do what they hope to do, there is a very good chance Maryland will get a rematch against one or several of those teams.

"Familiarity is a great thing," Frese said. "We'll have a comfort level knowing those teams, what they looked like. What we didn't do, what we can correct."

Eye on Minnesota

It's been a long time since she coached Minnesota for that one season. But she has kept her eye on the program and kept in touch with Whalen, reaching out to the Gophers coach after her emergency appendectomy this week.

She also expects the Gophers' prospects to rise once the recruiting class of Mallory Heyer, Amaya Battle, Mara Braun and Nia Holloway — a top-10 class — gets to campus come fall.

"That is a very talented group," Frese said. "We recruited a lot of them. I see a big jump next year, really in two years. That class is special."

But would it be special for her to return to the Twin Cities for a Final Four?

It would, Frese said. An Iowa native, it would be easy for family to attend. She still has friends here. "It would have more meaning," she said. "I have fond memories of my time there."

It will take work. Miller is back, but Frese lost her top bench player, Faith Masonius — perhaps the best defender on the team — to a season-ending knee injury. The starting five has two members of last season's All-Big Ten first team in Miller and Ashley Owusu, as well as Katie Benzan (second team All-Big Ten last season), Chloe Bibby (honorable mention) and Angel Reese (all-freshman).

But Frese's mission this season is Minneapolis.

"You have to have talent, and some luck, and certain nights have to go your way," Frese said.