The Maryland women's basketball team had never lost two of its opening four games in 15 seasons under coach Brenda Frese.
But this year, the Terps' first four games included the past two national champions — No. 3 South Carolina and No. 1 Connecticut. They lost both high-profile matchups, including a blowout 97-72 defeat to the Huskies on Sunday, but Frese remained positive after each defeat.
"It's not a consolation, obviously, when you lose," Frese said. "But, I'm actually pleased, when you talk about such a young team, to be able to come in and do some of the things [we did], I thought we grew as a team."
With perhaps their most difficult stretch of the season now behind them, the No. 15 Terps (2-2) hope to learn from the mistakes they made against South Carolina and Connecticut as they turn to the rest of the schedule.
Maryland's early struggles in its losses were somewhat negated by improvements as the games went on. The Terps outscored the Gamecocks 73-65 in the final three quarters on Nov. 13, and Frese was quick to point out the Huskies scored just four more points than her team in the same span on Sunday.
The Terps competed for only 12 minutes against the Gamecocks, Frese said, but she felt they were invested for about 30 in the loss to the Huskies.
Guard Kaila Charles, Maryland's leading scorer in both games with 31 points against South Carolina and 29 on Sunday, echoed Frese's sentiment, adding that the Terps will look to "give the first punch" as they improve this season.
"[Against] South Carolina, we didn't play hard the entire game," Charles said, "but [against Connecticut], we had more effort and energy."
The Terps returned just two starters and are still nurturing two new point guards, meaning they'll likely take a while to reach their potential.
Freshman Channise Lewis is being eased into the lineup, Frese said, while sophomore Sarah Myers, converted from shooting guard, is still learning as well. At times against the Huskies, Charles brought the ball up the court for the Terps.
With a lack of continuity and experience, the Terps dug themselves into a hole with 15 first-half turnovers. But Charles felt they learned how to keep a positive mentality through those struggles.
"We're just being optimistic," Charles said. "Yeah, we got down on each other, but we realized quickly we're still in it. Don't get mental with the game; just keep playing our game."
The Terps won't face another currently ranked team until Jan. 22 when they host No. 9 Ohio State. Frese is adamant, however, that "every game for us is a test."
Charles said the Terps treat each opponent the same and try their best not to get wrapped up in rankings or "buy into the hype of the game." With that mentality, they took plenty from their two early defeats that could serve them well moving forward.
"We can compete with the top competition in the country," Charles said. "We got a lot of steals, we got a lot of shots, we had good drives to the basket. It's just showing us that, as we build and time goes, we can improve and get better and better every game."