In the process, her players realized something important about themselves. "I think it took the full two weeks for us to really understand what was happening," Rutan said. "We would go so hard against each other, and, at the end of the two weeks, we realized, 'We're fighting against people who have 'Maryland' written on their chest. Why can't we come together like this, all 14 of us, and do that against someone else?'"
So, at the end of their final practice before the tournament, as the Terps huddled together, Thomas and senior center Alicia DeVaughn started a discussion about how to channel that competitive energy toward Maryland's opponents. "You could sense what was happening over those two weeks," Rutan said. "But we finally talked about it, acknowledged it, and everyone was like, 'Now we just need to go at another team even harder.'"
Of course, that's exactly what they have done. The Terrapins are like a wind-up toy going full tilt. And they don't see why they should stop just because they're running into Notre Dame. "Our motto is, 'Crash the party,' because nobody expects us to be here," Rutan said, echoing her teammate. "It's as if we should just be happy to be here, but we're here to do business, just like anybody else. We had our happy time the last two days, but happy time is over. It's time to get a win."
On that subject, Thomas sounded downright verbose. "Yup, we're here to crash the party," she repeated. "And I know Stanford is, too. I talked to Chiney, and we're both here to crash the party."
What about Notre Dame now playing the underdog card after losing senior leader Natalie Achonwa to injury?
Thomas wasn't really buying it. She simply shrugged and said, "You gotta do what you gotta do."
It's all just talk at this point anyway.
And we know how she feels about that.