From the point of view of a Maryland fan, I can describe tonight's basketball game against the top ranked Connecticut Huskies in a single word: disappointing. As Coach Frese said, "This game wouldn't make or break our season," the Terps had a chance for a signature early season win against the depleted defending national champs and, for the most part were not up to the task dropping a 72-55 decision.
The first half played the way the formulators of the new rules envisioned with an almost artful flow and a minimal number of fouls. It was a pleasure to watch two teams competing and playing at a very high level.
While her teammates got over their nerves, Alyssa Thomas carried the Terps to open the contest scoring the first seven Maryland points including dropping in a three pointer. However, she was matched basket for by UConn's sophomore sensation Breanna Stewart who opened the game with the Huskies' first seven points.
Playing with a thin bench, Connecticut's defensive plan became evident early: exert mild pressure after made baskets to control the pace; drop back into a 2-3 zone with Stewart, Stephanie Dolson, and Kiah Stokes on the back line to limit penetration and shots from the deep corners; and, keep two defenders back at all times to slow Maryland's break. They were effective with all three for the entire game.
Facing an opponent with a thin bench, part of Maryland's game plan was to attack the basket and try to draw fouls putting UConn in foul trouble. They were somewhat successful in that drawing two fouls on both Dolson and Stewart who sat the last six minutes of the half. However, by the time Stewart went to the bench she had gone off for 19 points on 7 for 9 shooting including going 3 for 3 from deep.
Maryland shot well from behind the arc making five of their eleven attempts keeping the Terps close in a half that featured four ties and thirteen lead changes. A basket by Thomas, who had a double-double in the first half with 14 points and ten rebounds, gave the Terps a one point lead with 1:37 to play. The lead was both short lived and Maryland's last. The Huskies countered scoring the last six points of the half to lead 43-38 at the break.
When I looked at the first half statistics, some telling numbers seemed to set the stage for the second half. In the Terrapins favor, they had only five turnovers at the half, shared the ball extremely well with eleven assists on fifteen baskets, had a significant 22-15 rebounding edge, and, not surprisingly held a 10-2 advantage in bench scoring. Additionally, the visitors shot a blistering 53.6% to gain that slim five point margin. If the Terps could continue that efficiency and tighten up defensively, they likely would have a good chance to make up the five point halftime deficit and come out with a win.
On the other side, UConn protected the ball even better with only two turnovers, had a 30-6 lead in points in the paint, had scored nine points (to Maryland's two) off turnovers, and held a 12-0 advantage in fast break points. If they could continue to hold those margins and manage to close the gap on the boards, they likely would hold on to win the game.
The Terps came out of the gate quickly in the second half drawing quick third foul on Dolson (who would draw her fourth with over 16 minutes to play) and scoring on an Alyssa Thomas jumper and a three pointer from Katie Rutan to tie the score at forty-three all. It also looked to me that Maryland played two or three possessions in a zone that briefly surprised and stymied the Huskies. From that point, the game belonged entirely to Connecticut. After UConn scored to recapture the lead, the Terps next five possessions looked like this: turnover, missed three point attempt by Rutan, turnover, ill-advised missed three point air ball from the top of the circle by Alicia DeVaughn, turnover, turnover, blocked shot. At the end of this stretch, the Huskies had gone on an 8-0 run and would never look back. When the run had stretched to 23-8 with just over nine and a half minutes to play, Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma called a timeout and instructed his team to milk the clock unless they had an open layup. Though the Huskies took their collective feet off the gas on the offensive end, they continued to be relentless defensively holding the Terrapins to seventeen points for the half.
Oh, as for those statistics I mentioned, Maryland had 9 second half turnovers, only four assists on eight baskets, and lost the battle on the boards 26-17. Connecticut, finished the game with only six turnovers, stretched their margin in the paint from twenty-four to thirty-eight, had a 17-4 edge in points off turnovers, and continued to hold the Terps without a fast break point while adding four to their total. Game, set and match to UConn.
Maryland now has the weekend off. They will be back in action when they host the George Washington Colonials Tuesday night in a 7 pm tipoff.
Meanwhile, up at the Maryland SoccerPlex, the Terps captured a 1-0 overtime win over the Clemson Tigers with Michaels Sauers registering the game winning golden goal with just thirteen seconds to play in the first overtime period. But that, boys and girls is a story for another day when my brain is a bit fresher and my spirits a bit higher.