TAMPA, Fla -- Almost nobody believed Maryland could beat Connecticut on Sunday night.
Of course, that had little to do with the Terrapins, as most people don't think anybody can beat the Huskies this season.
Maybe nobody can. Maryland certainly couldn't, losing 81-58 in the national semifinals.
Can Notre Dame? Guess we'll find out on Tuesday night, when the Fighting Irish and UConn meet for the national championship -- it'll be the second consecutive title game between the two programs.
But here's the thing about the Terrapins: There's a possibility they'll be the next team not named UConn to win an NCAA championship.
You heard it here first: at the Final Four two years from now, in 2017, the Terrapins could walk away with the title. That's how good this team's trio of sophomores -- Brionna Jones, Lexie Brown and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough -- are. (Also relevant: UConn star Breanna Stewart, who scored 25 points on Sunday and is going for her third title in three years, graduates the year before.)
"That UConn team, they have something special there. I think that we're getting there. Our experience is growing every game we play." Maryland sophomore Lexie Brown
The chemist who could mix the winning formula is Maryland coach Brenda Frese, who won a title in 2006, and knows a little something about how to win the big one. (Her team wasn't supposed to win that year, either.) Frese also believes her squads can beat anyone, any night -- even when they can't, which was the case on Sunday. But Frese has spent the first two seasons with these sophomores layering them with confidence, instilling in them the idea that they are as good as anyone.
"She's won a championship already, and even the team she won a championship with wasn't expected to win, so she already has that fire in her stomach," said Brown, who is the daughter of former NBA star Dee Brown. "I think she's going to continue to push us to be great. And I think she wants us to win a title."
Added Brown: "And I think we can. That UConn team, they have something special there. I think that we're getting there. Our experience is growing every game we play. I think this summer we're going to have to work even harder, maybe get some changes in the offense, get some new looks, because I think teams basically know what we're going to bring to the floor. But, yeah, I think this team definitely can win a title."
The only player Maryland loses off this roster is guard Lauren Mincy, who led the team in overall scoring. The next three leading scorers: Brown (13.4 points per game), Walker-Kimbrough (13.6) and Jones (12.3).
With three sophomores in the starting lineup -- all with high ceilings -- the Terrapins won 28 straight games and finished the season 34-3.
And the best part about this trio is that they do very different things. Jones bangs inside and finishes at a ridiculously efficient clip. Brown handles the ball better than Walker-Kimbrough, but as they mature, they'll likely spell each other more frequently.
Of course, other teams exist. So the big question is: Whose sophomores will mature faster? And better?
Notre Dame has sophomores Lindsay Allen and Taya Reimer, along with star freshman Brianna Turner. The Huskies have a seemingly endless pipeline of talent, but their most promising youngster is 6-foot-2 forward Morgan Tuck, who scored 24 points on Sunday.
"Our goals are to make it back here the next year and the following year and, one of those two years, win a national championship," Jones said.
Plain and simple.
But have they said this -- we will win a title -- out loud, to each other?
"In passing," Jones said. "We've talked about it. But next year, the summer, I think we need to lock in and make that change. And I think I need to develop a mid-range shot, that would definitely help us."
Frese has an open locker room: the media is welcome at any time. She feels that if a camera is enough to distract, then her team must not be focused enough in the first place. Plus, anything Frese would say to her team behind closed doors, she would say out loud -- to anyone.
The door was open before Sunday's game against UConn. Frese allowed assistant coach Marlin Chinn to work through his offensive scouting report before she stepped in front of her team. She worked through the key defensive points (i.e. "Go at Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, you know on defense she has nothing for you"), then got to the good part: the motivational words.
"You and only you have defined your season along the way," she said. "You've been 100 percent committed to each other. Work ethic and mentality. And let me tell you something: Nothing changes tonight! You have repped millions and millions of shots since you were yay high ... for this moment. It's our moment and we expect greatness. We get to go out and tell our story"
Actually, the story of this next generation at Maryland is just beginning.
But it's going to be a good one.