Exhorted before the game by Coach Brenda Frese to "leave their mark," the Maryland Terrapins women's basketball team started their farewell tour of the ACC with a hard earned nine-point road win at tenth-ranked North Carolina, taking down the Tar Heels by a 79-70 final. As many have noted, the ACC did the Terps no scheduling favors, with Wake Forest as the only North Carolina school scheduled to visit Comcast Center, and if Sunday's game is any harbinger, then lesson number one from this game is Maryland will need extraordinary effort to continue to come away victorious in these road tests.
The Terps started quickly, running out to an early 10-3 lead, a margin they held into the first media timeout. When Laurin Mincy picked up her second foul just over two and a half minutes into the game, Frese turned confidently to Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and the freshman immediately made her presence felt, grabbing an offensive rebound and hitting a cutting Alicia DeVaughn for a bucket.
It was on the Terps' next possession that Shatori showed (and here is lesson number two from the game) a poise far beyond her years. When a Carolina defender deflected Lexie Brown's pass into the backcourt, Walker calmly picked it up with 13 seconds left on the shot clock. With no sign of tension or panic she calmly crossed the half court line with just 8 seconds on the shot clock. Maryland cleared some space for her by moving everyone toward the baseline.Shatori faked right, drove left, and dropped in a floater from ten feet. She'd follow that up with a three point jumper from the left wing to keep Maryland's lead at seven at the first media break.
"Coach said just be ready when your number is called and I felt like my number was called today. I feel like my teammates and the coaches have confidence in me. In the end it's just basketball," Walker-Kimbrough said after the game.
However, a sloppy stretch coming out of the under sixteen timeout (combined with good UNC ball movement and effective play from freshman post player Stephanie Mavunga) allowed the Tar Heels to launch an 8-0 run and come back to grab their only lead of the game at 17-16, as the squads headed to the under-12 minute media timeout.
Carolina's advantage lasted exactly 49 seconds as Lexie Brown's jumper from the left wing gave Maryland a lead they would not again surrender. Shatori followed with a three point jumper that extended the lead to four, and when the clock ticked under eight minutes Maryland led 25-19. The Tar Heels continuing to do a good job spreading the floor, beating Maryland off the dribble, and getting the ball inside scored four straight out of the timeout to narrow the gap to two.
At this point, the dynamic duo of Alyssa Thomas and Shatori took over for the Terps, combining to score the Terrapins' next ten points, with AT bagging four and Shatori picking up six. Walker-Kimbrough's free throws coming out of the last media time out gave the Terps a 35-29 lead. In a moment that presaged the opening of the second half, Katie Rutan dropped in a three pointer with just over a minute left to give the Terps a nine point margin that they would carry into halftime. Shatori led Maryland in scoring and rebounding with 13 and 7 respectively while Thomas added eleven.
Back in 1982, The Weather Girls had a hit single: It's Raining Men. Well, as the Terps opened the second half their theme was "It's Raining Threes." The half opened with Mincy dropping in a three from the right corner. Rutan, Brown and Rutan again followed with two misses from behind the arc. You may remember that I mentioned Rutan's late first half three as a moment that presaged the opening of the second half. Well, after the Tar Heels cut the lead to three, Rutan dropped in bombs on three of the Terps next four possessions the last of which extended the lead to fourteen. An AT foul line jumper off a rebound and a fast break layup by Rutan off a perfect bounce pass from Mincy capped a 7-0 Maryland run that stretched the lead to eighteen at 57-39 and forced Carolina to burn a second early timeout.
This time the strategy worked as the home team answered with a nine point run that cut the lead back to single digits. Two Alicia DeVaughn free throws briefly stemmed the tide. And while I'm writing about Maryland free throws, let me circle back a moment to lesson number one. In the first half, Maryland went to the free throw line five times making all five. North Carolina was 10 for thirteen from the charity stripe in the first half. Devaughn's free throws with just under 11 minutes to play were the Terps eighth and ninth of the game. Though Maryland finished 20 for 23, they would not get to the line again until 4:13 remained and their last twelve attempts came in the final minute and thirty-six seconds. North Carolina also made twenty free throws but on thirty-six attempts.
The final foul totals were 27 for Maryland and 21 for Carolina which is not a glaring disparity until you note that 7 of UNC's 21 fouls came in the last four minutes of the game and six of those in the final minute and a half while Maryland was whistled for only two fouls over the game's final seven minutes. I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions.Another lesson from Sunday's game is balance. Though Alyssa Thomas remarkably registered a double-double for the thirteenth consecutive game, three other Terps joined her in double figures - Shatori with 16, Rutan with 14 and Brown with 12. Walker-Kimbrough added seven rebounds while Brionna Jones pulled down six. And, of course, the Terps continue to share the ball well with 15 assists on 26 baskets.
The final lesson from the win comes down to a single word: poise. The Terps withstood the Tar Heels' outburst that halved their lead from eighteen to nine. When Carolina cut the lead to six at 61-55 with under seven minutes to play, Alyssa Thomas, who finished with her thirteenth consecutive double double, showed why she's the two time reigning ACC Player of the Year. She grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on the put back to push the lead back to eight. The next time down the floor, she grabbed another offensive rebound and dropped in a jumper from inside the lane and the lead was again ten. Said Frese, "I thought it was huge. We didn't lose our composure. We knew they were really talented - that they were going to make runs. It was great that we had a buffer in terms of the lead and I thought AT imposed her will. She was not going to let us be denied and she showed it." On the other hand, should you be thinking my reference to poise applies only to AT, think again. As the Tar Heels fouled the Terrapins' freshmen down the stretch, Lexie Brown was 3 for 4, Shatori 2 for 2 and Brionna Jones made both her free tosses.
The Terps, winners of ten in a row, now head back home for three straight starting Thursday night when they host the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in a 7 pm tip off.