The Maryland women's basketball team failed to separate from Northwestern for much of its contest on Thursday. Guards Kaila Charles and Eleanna Christinaki scored 17 and 15 points, respectively, but the rest of the starting five struggled to chip in.
So, the No. 14 Terps turned to their bench. Substitute forward Brianna Fraser scored 13 points, grabbed six rebounds and notched six of Maryland's final eight points in its 68-65 victory against the Wildcats.
In October, coach Brenda Frese explained why several of her bench players were perfectly suited to step up and contribute during the season.
Among the players who garnered particularly high praise was Fraser, from whom Frese expected "big things."
"She has worked extremely hard," Frese said. "I feel like she is one of our most talented players that we have on the court."
Frese credited Fraser after the Northwestern win, calling her "huge down the stretch." That's been the theme for one of the team's most important players all season.
The Terps usually start one post player, forward Stephanie Jones, but Fraser is often Maryland's first or second player off the bench.
The junior earned her first career start on Jan. 16 against Indiana, scoring eight points and adding five rebounds. However, she's been more potent when out of the starting lineup.
At 10.8 points per game, Fraser is Maryland's fifth-highest scorer, ahead of two regular starters. She also grabs 6.7 rebounds per game, third most on the team.
The Cheryl Miller Award (given to the nation's top small forward) watch list member has set single-game career highs in eight different categories, including points in a game, which she achieved with 24 against Howard.
With just 10 players on the roster, and nine active following guard Blair Watson's season-ending ACL tear, the Terps' bench is thin, but its contributions have been immense. None have been more influential than Fraser's.
Frese believes in the talent that made Fraser a McDonald's All-American out of high school and ESPN's No. 15-ranked player in the country. Her first two years at Maryland, she scored four and 6.1 points per game, respectively. Now she averages double figures and is taking on key roles at the end of games, like she did against Northwestern.
That's the product of improved focus and effort from the junior, who is living up to the expectations Frese has for her.
"When she puts her mindset in the right direction and plays at the highest level, she can't be stopped," Frese said.