IOWA CITY — When the Big Ten women’s basketball schedule is released each summer, two questions immediately come to Brenda Frese’s mind:
Where do we play Iowa? And when?
“That’s the first thing I look for,” said Frese, a Cedar Rapids native and the coach at the University of Maryland. “The first name I look for is Iowa, to see if it’s home or away, and when.”
This year’s answer: Iowa City, and Sunday.
Frese brings the eighth-ranked Terrapins (23-2 overall, 12-2 Big Ten) to Carver-Hawkeye Arena for a noon contest with No. 13 Iowa (20-5, 11-3). It’s the biggest game in the league this season, between the two teams that have separated themselves from the rest of the pack.
A member of Cedar Rapids Washington’s state-championship team of 1988, Frese is in her 20th season as a head coach. She reached the 500-win plateau earlier this season. In 17 years at Maryland, she is 452-121. She piloted the Terrapins to the 2006 NCAA championship, and still holds the title as youngest coach to win a national title (she was 35 at the time).
Sunday’s game will be Frese’s third appearance at Carver. The first two were comfortable victories, and Maryland is 6-0 against Iowa since joining the Big Ten in 2014.
But this, Frese said, is “without a question” the best Iowa team that she has faced.
“Lisa (Bluder) and her staff have done a phenomenal job,” Frese said. “In my opinion, Megan Gustafson is one of the 10 best players in the country. It’s been fun watching the growth of her game. And all the pieces around her ... they’re healthy, they’re talented, and I think they’re poised to make a big run at the end of the season.”
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As has been the case in the Terrapins’ past two trips to Iowa City, the team will visit the home of Frese’s parents, Bill and Donna Frese of Cedar Rapids, for dinner the night before the game. Frese’s twin sons, Markus and Tyler Thomas, will celebrate their 11th birthday.
Tyler was diagnosed with childhood leukemia in 2010. He completed his final round of chemotherapy in December 2013, and remains cancer-free.
“He has checkups once a year and is healthy,” Frese said. “It really put a lot of things in perspective for me, how precious life is.”
Maryland has won eight straight games since a 77-60 loss to Michigan State on Jan. 17, all by double figures.
“Our two losses have shifted our attention to where our leadership was going to come from. The team really has taken ownership,” Frese said.
The roster consists of an uncrowded cast of 10 — “a great number, as long as you stay healthy,” Frese said — and only one senior.
If the weather is good Sunday, a big crowd is expected at Carver, one that might approach five figures. Frese knows that the vast majority will be trying to will the Hawkeyes toward their first Big Ten title since 2008.
“That’s the fun of it,” she said. “With as good of a player as they’ve got and as good as their team is, I would hope people would come out and support them.”
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