When I looked at the schedule for the Maryland women's basketball team, I didn't anticipate writing the following sentence: The Virginia Cavaliers soundly defeated the Maryland Terrapins 86-72 in Charlottesville Thursday night handing the Terps their first defeat in conference play. I may not have anticipated it and I may not have gone full on Robbie the Robot in my preview, but that, indeed, is the sentence that wraps up Thursday's events. I left John Paul Jones Arena knowing that, at least on this night, the better team won. Virginia played with more urgency, more intensity, more hustle and better execution. As Coach Frese said after the game, "They earned this win. They competed hard for every single possession for the forty minute game."
After Katie Rutan dropped in a three point jumper from the right wing on Maryland's first possession, Virginia ran off seven straight points and began to look very early on like a confident squad. At the first media timeout, the Terps were fortunate to trail by that same four point margin as they had turned the ball over four times in their first nine possessions.
Maryland settled into a better offensive rhythm after the timeout and both teams made shots. The Terps made a few more and, despite Altaira Franklin making back to back three pointers, Maryland rallied to take brief leads at 17-16 and again at 18-17. Virginia was the last team to score before the second media break so the Terrapin deficit at that point was one.
In addition to protecting the ball better as the half went on, the Terps started to assert themselves on the glass and control an aspect of the game where one would have expected them to dominate. Over the next eight minutes Maryland worked themselves into a small lead. When Alyssa Thomas hit a step back jumper with 4:18 to play, it gave the Terps a four point edge and the senior became the fourth player in Maryland women's basketball history to score 2,000 points in her career. However, Virginia was surprisingly accurate from behind the arc and their three point shooting kept them in the game. It looked as though the half would end as it began, with a Rutan three pointer, and the Terps ran off the court thinking they had a seven point lead. However, after reviewing the play, the officials ruled (and I think correctly) that she hadn't released the shot before time expired. Still, the Terps went into the break leading 35-31 despite the Cavs sinking 5 of 11 shots from long distance.
I don't know whether the official's decision regarding Rutan's shot at the end of the half affected the emotions of the team and neither did Coach Frese. When I asked her after the game she paused and responded, "I don't know about that. It felt like Virginia from the tip was the more aggressive team." Whether or not this was the case, the Cavaliers came out of their locker room with and on fire. They opened the half on an 11-0 run giving them a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
In addition to Thomas, one other Terrapin seemed to be playing with some sense of urgency - fellow senior Alicia DeVaughn. DeVaughn stopped the UVA run with a layup and followed that with an 'and one' that kept the Terps within four at the first media break of the second half. Brene Moseley's jumper out of the timeout pulled the Terps to 45-47 but again the Cavs answered with a 5 point run that included yet another made three point shot. In all, UVA would make 8 of 18 three point field goals.
With 13:56 to play, a sequence unfolded that typified the night and, I think, in some ways sealed Maryland's fate. It began positively for the Terps as Shatori Walker-Kimbrough drove to the basket for the hoop and harm converting the three point play and closing the gap to four. After Malina Howard rebounded a missed jumper, Altaira Franklin fouled Moseley. The foul put Maryland in the bonus with over 13 minutes to play. Now it starts to get ugly. Moseley missed the front end of the one and one. Faith Randolph missed a three pointer for Virginia but Lexie Gerson out hustled Rutan to the long rebound and Rutan committed a foul. Randolph then retrieved Gerson's missed three pointer who found an open Kelsey Wolfe who sank hers to put Maryland down seven.
About four minutes later, the Terps again cut a seven point lead to three on an odd four point play. Thomas missed the second of two free throws but DeVaughn grabbed the rebound, scored, was fouled and made her shot from the charity stripe. The teams traded baskets but Maryland couldn't get closer than three largely because they couldn't string together any series of defensive stops. Virginia, on the other hand, had begun anticipating Maryland's passes amassing eight steals on ten Terrapin turnovers in the second half. They also finished the game efficiently from the field where they shot nearly 57% for the half and from the free throw line where they made 15 of 17 for the half.
The fault may lie with the coaches, as Frese said, "I told them in the locker room that I take full responsibility that we weren't ready to play tonight." I asked her if having Notre Dame coming up on Monday might have contributed to that. "It's hard to say," she responded. "Sometimes you can get into a false sense of security- maybe a fool's gold when you're 4-0 in the conference. You think these games are easier than they actually are. We've had to grind out three of our four wins in terms of being aggressive."
The fault may lie with the players, as Alyssa Thomas said, "Defensively we couldn't slow them down. They got whatever they wanted whenever they wanted. We let them come out with a lot of energy where we came out kind of flat and then when we wanted to turn it on they already had so much momentum we couldn't slow them down."
Wherever the fault lies, three things are clear. The Terps need to put this game behind them quickly. They have the second ranked and undefeated Notre Dame Fighting Irish coming to Comcast Center on Monday. The second thing is that they need to find some players who are going to step up and help Alyssa Thomas on the glass. Thomas, who notched her sixteenth double-double of the season, pulled down fully a third of Maryland's rebounds and the Terps grabbed only two rebounds more than the Cavs.. Coming into the game, she'd accounted for nearly a quarter of that total on the season. Finally, the young players need to understand that the level of competition in the ACC is higher than just about any they faced in their non-conference schedule. In terms of effort, intensity, and focus, there can be no nights off.