The Maryland women's basketball team lost 87-83 to second ranked and undefeated Notre Dame Monday night in what Terp Talk's Bruce Posner, who sat next to me during the game, called the most exciting and best played game he's seen at Comcast Center this season - men's or women's. The Terrapins have now lost two in a row for the first time since back to back losses to Duke and Florida State in late February 2013. They also struggled a bit in getting home wins over Syracuse and Georgia Tech. So let's take a look at what, in my opinion, the Terps need to do to reassert themselves as one of the top three teams in the ACC.
Eliminate slow starts.
Monday night's effort against Notre Dame was by far the worst of the last four games and needn't be discussed beyond the reminder that the Terps fell behind by twenty-two points in the first half. Looking back to the Syracuse game, a young and inexperienced Orange team came into Comcast Center and actually held a lead nearly eight minutes into the game. In another home game against Georgia Tech, the first half was a back and forth affair that saw the visitors holding a one point halftime lead. Showing that it's never a good thing to let an underdog team hang around and gain confidence, in the game at Virginia, Maryland trailed for the first 14 minutes before rallying to take a narrow four point lead at the half.
Alicia DeVaughn, who did start the game with intensity and urgency, said afterward, “It’s just trying to stay focused and positive and learn from this. We started off slow but we see how we kept fighting and only lose by however many. We knew that we could have won the game, but we just had to come out ready to play, because they came out ready to play.”
Frese added, "It doesn’t get any easier. Now the tough thing that we face is having to play two straight games on the road in conference. I think the biggest thing for us is we have to jump out early. These slow starts are hindering us in terms of our performance. Our veteran leadership has to show the way for everyone on the team in terms of the way we have to start games.”
Play 40 minutes of defense
The Terps held Syracuse to a respectable 36.7 shooting percentage in the first half but softened up to see the Orange shoot 48% in the second. Fortunately, Maryland had built up a comfortable 14 point halftime edge with a late first half run but the lost intensity on defense prevented them from really putting the game away setting up a possibly tougher challenge when they travel to Syracuse on Sunday. Georgia Tech had their unacceptably high shooting percentage in the first half of that game making nearly 46% of their shots. The Terps clamped down in the second half as the Yellow Jackets shot barely 30% from the floor and Maryland won the half by twelve and the game by eleven. As for Virginia, they shot a too high 43% in the first half but Maryland still managed shoot fifty percent and hold that four point lead. That slim margin evaporated quickly and permanently when they allowed the Cavaliers to shoot 56% in the second half of a game they lost.
Notre Dame, which entered the game making over 50% of their shots saw a similar lack of defensive intensity carryover from Maryland's game in Charlottesville as the Irish made two-thirds of their first half shots. The Terps held the Irish to 50% in the second still a high number but slightly below their season average. More tellingly, with 3:31 to play as Alyssa Thomas stepped to the free throw line for two shots and Maryland trailing 73-75 Notre Dame had shot only 42.8% to that point in the half and the Terps had forced 9 turnovers. Thomas made one of two and over the final 3:31, the Irish made four of their final five shots and didn't turn the ball over. In that stretch, Jewell Loyd rebounded her own miss and put back a near dagger of a layup with just over a minute to go.
I asked Coach B about this after the game. "We were disappointed with our defense to start the game," she said. "I thought we defended harder in practice then how we started. We came out with a better mindset and a lot of hard ball pressure. We started trusting ourselves on the defensive end. We made them have to take ore difficult shots under duress."
Get back to controlling the glass
In the fifteen games prior to Syracuse, Maryland had out rebounded their opponents 707-479 for a margin of 15.2 rebounds per game. In this four game stretch, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech out rebounded Maryland and the Terps held slim margins of plus seven and plus two against Syracuse and Virginia respectively. The total for the four games is Maryland 140 and opponents 138.
Value Possessions by protecting the ball
Limiting turnovers hasn't been a strength of the Terrapins in the Brenda Frese era. In the past, it mattered less because the Terps got extra possessions by strong offensive rebounding and many of Maryland's turnovers led to out of bounds plays and not easy breakaway baskets. But in the stretch of games in question, the Terps haven't been gaining those extra possessions and the turnovers become more costly. Maryland protected the ball well in their 14 point win over Syracuse with only 9 turnovers. Against Georgia Tech, they turned the ball over 23 times and against UVA sixteen. Against ND, Maryland had 8 first half turnovers and trailed by twelve. They had four second half turnovers and won the half by eight. As the ancient Romans said, "Res ipsa loquitor."
Recapture their three point touch
Before the last four games, the Terps had shot 38% as a team from behind the arc. Over the last four games, they've seen that drop to 27% and only against GT were they over thirty percent. Notre Dame made six of fourteen three point attempts. Maryland made two of eight. My math says that's a ten point deficit in a four point loss.
The Terps don't have much time to work things out. As Coach Frese noted they have back to back road games starting with NC State in Raleigh Thursday night followed by a trip to Syracuse on Sunday. The road, quite literally, continues.