Maryland center Malina Howard, left, blocks a shot attempt by Rutgers guard Tyler Scaife during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015, in College Park, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Patrick Semansky
February 12, 2015

COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) An unknown journey has turned into a historical romp for the Maryland women's basketball team in its first Big Ten season.

Coming off a Final Four appearance in their farewell to the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Terrapins brought a youthful squad into a conference known for its physical style of play.

There was really no telling how Maryland would fare without departed All-American Alyssa Thomas against unfamiliar foes in uncharted locations.

The answer, it turns out, is exceptionally well.

Fifth-ranked Maryland (22-2, 13-0) is poised to become the first team to go unbeaten in the Big Ten since Purdue in 1998-99 and only the third overall (Ohio State also did it in 1984-85). The Terrapins have already knocked off highly regarded Rutgers and Nebraska twice, and of their five remaining league games, only Northwestern has a winning record.

Sure, Maryland was picked in the preseason poll to finish first. But no one - not even coach Brenda Frese - saw this coming.

''I don't think anyone could have envisioned this,'' Frese said. ''When you talk about three sophomores in your starting lineup and only one senior, being such a young team, it's hard to imagine.

''Credit the players. There was no bar that set up on them in terms of what it was going to look like. They've trusted the process, they've worked really hard and great things have happened for them because of it.''

No one person was going to replace Thomas, the leading scorer and rebounder in school history. So Frese created a team that would be the sum of its parts.

The Terps have had at least five players score in double figures in six games, and the bench is averaging more than 20 points. In an 80-69 win over No. 18 Rutgers on Tuesday night, four players reached double digits and freshman A'Lexus Harrison collected 12 rebounds after starting center Brionna Jones got in early foul trouble.

That is why, despite graduating five seniors, Maryland has won 16 straight since Dec. 3.

''What people didn't understand is the chemistry of this team, the heart,'' Frese said. ''They play for each other.''

Not once has a Terrapin been named Big Ten Player of the Week, and no Maryland player is among in the league's top 20 scorers. Yet no team can match the Terrapins' depth.

''All the positions are legitimate,'' Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said. ''They're clearly one of the best teams in the country, aside from the fact that they're clearly the best team in the Big Ten.''

Maryland has been one the country's elite teams for well over a decade, and Frese guided the Terrapins to a national championship in 2006. There have been many highlights for the esteemed coach since her arrival in 2002, but few that would top going unbeaten in the Big Ten.

''It would be really special,'' Frese said. ''Obviously, as a coach I've never gone through anything like that with a team, so it would rank right up there. For us, though, it's just staying in the moment and not getting too far out there about that. What's kept us focused is taking one day and one game and one practice at a time.''

That's not just coach-speak. A year ago, the Terrapins always turned to Thomas in a tight contest. This season, all the players need to be on their game - even in practice- for Maryland to stay sharp.

''We're going to come and play hard every night,'' senior guard Laurin Mincy said. ''We've been working countless hours during the summer and during the season and we deserve it. We just want to keep doing what we're doing.''

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