The scores were certainly eye-popping last week at Maryland.
The sixth-ranked women’s basketball team won its two exhibition games by an average of 127.5 points, including shutting out Bluefield State in the second half of the 146-17 rout on Nov. 2.
A mismatch of record proportions for sure, yet the Big Blue aren’t crying foul. In fact, coach Todd Fong would love an opportunity to play the Terrapins again.
“You have to think big picture here. Sure, look at it on the surface and you see the score and wonder what is going on?” Fong said in an interview with The Associated Press on Monday. “But you have to understand the behind-the-scene things. I’ve known (Maryland coach) Brenda (Frese) for 12 years. I told her when I got to coach a team I’d love to play her and she gave us the chance. She didn’t have to do that.”
The Terrapins weren’t the only team with blowout victories last week, although their Division II and III opponents were a combined 2-47 last year.
No. 21 DePaul won its two games against local Chicago NAIA teams in dominant fashion. So did No. 3 UConn. Second-ranked Baylor struggled in its first exhibition game before winning by 89 points on Monday night.
So why play these games as opposed to a closed scrimmage against another ranked team?
“It gets out some of the jitters,” Frese said. “We’ve played closed scrimmages in the past, but our team treated it like a scrimmage. There were no fans in the stands, no nervousness, no anxiousness. In our exhibition games, we have six freshmen this year, you can put fans in the stands, do your pregame routine.”
Bruno agreed with Frese about how exhibition games can be valuable to get your team ready for the upcoming season regardless of the opponent.
“The reason we play them is that I want to be able to play with the lights on and have the players have game-day experience. That’s a big deal to have game day experience,” Bruno said. “What is it like to have to go to pregame shootaround? What’s it like to be in school when you have a game? I get my freshmen time on the floor. I get to see players fighting for positions that might earn spots or not earn spots against real competition on the floor.”
One of Bruno’s exhibition games was against St. Francis, Illinois, which is coached by former DePaul guard Sam Quigley. Despite the 70-point loss, Quigley called it a successful night.
“Losing like we did, was a little eye-opening to our team,” Quigley said. “We are ranked fifth in the nation in NAIA, but here’s a different level. The top two teams might look a little more like these teams.”
After the loss to DePaul on Friday night, her team then hopped on a flight the next morning to play at Florida State. That game, which the Fighting Saints lost 91-38 served as a chance for junior guard Christina Ekhomu to play against her sister, who is a freshman for the Seminoles. Besides the family reunion, playing at Florida State allowed Quigley’s team to play in a bigger arena. Something that she hopes will prepare them well for the NAIA tournament at the end of the season if they can make it in again.
“We didn’t go into a big arena until our very last tournament so hopefully we’ll be better prepared now,” she said.
Both Quigley and Fong’s schools also were given financial guarantees for the game. Those guarantees help the small budgets that these schools have.
The Maryland game also gave Fong the opportunity to have three of his players go home to Washington, where he also is from. The Big Blue also played a second game on the trip, routing Anne Arundel 95-37 the day before the Maryland contest.
“The benefits for us were enormous,” Fong said. “Did Maryland benefit? I don’t know. I wish we could have given them more of a match. We did lead 3-0. When I came back to Bluefield, people were talking about our women’s basketball program and our school.”
The harshest critic that Fong had to deal with was his son, who came to the game.
Fong guided the women’s golf team at Bluefield State to the USCAA national championship last month.
“You don’t know anything about golf and your team won the national championship and you say you know basketball but they put the thumper on you,” recalled Fong.
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