Well, that was fun. Now get over it. That's the story of the NCAA Tournament. The fun part came Sunday when the Maryland women's basketball team danced into the KFC Yum Center and Louisville as the fourth seed and beat the top seeded Tennessee Lady Vols 73-62 to advance to the Elite Eight for the second time in three years and the fifth under head coach Brenda Frese. The get over it part comes with the short turn around as the Terps will have to take on the third seeded Louisville Cardinals on their home court for the chance to reach the Final Four. But more on that in another story.
Show of hands: Who thinks that Alyssa Thomas was Maryland's player of the game. Wait. Some smart-ass really just asked what makes her player of the game? A career high 33 points for one. The 13 rebounds she grabbed for her 65th career double double for another. How about her ability to counter Tennessee's Meighan Simmons shot for shot when Tennessee tried to make their run in the second half? Or stepping in at point guard when Lexi Brown had foul trouble and do it with no turnovers? You're disappointed she only had 3 assists, 1 steal, 0 blocked shots, and only made 1 of 4 from behind the three point arc. Enough kidding around. Stated simply, Sunday belonged to Alyssa Thomas from beginning to end and her performance was sublime.
While I'd happily devote this entire entire story to AT and all that she did to will her team to the win, the truth is she did have a little help from her friends. So let's take a look at what they did to help her out. And we can start with
As she did against Texas, Mincy came off the bench and made her first shot - a three point jumper from the left wing. Over the stretch of three minutes in the first half when the Terps built their lead from one point to eleven, Mincy scored eight of Maryland's fourteen points while making three of her first four shots. She missed her next nine. But with just over five minutes to play after the Vols had halved the Terrapins' eighteen point lead, Mincy made a critical three pointer to push the lead back to a more comfortable twelve. Thomas can also write a thank you note to
Shatori Walker Kimbrough
Shatori entered the game about six minutes in and the freshman played with total aplomb. In the run mentioned above, Walker-Kimbrough followed a traditional three-point play by Mincy with one of her own on a slashing drive to the hoop drawing the first foul on Tennessee's starting center Isabelle Harrison. Harrison's eventual foul trouble would limit her play to 27 minutes. Shatori would be one of four Terps to score in double figures adding ten points off the bench. She also contributed three important steals, two assists, and three rebounds. While we're on the subject, how about the contributions from
Malina Howard and Alicia DeVaughn
At halftime, my game notes said, "limited production from DeVaughn, Jones, and Howard only 2 points and 6 rebounds combined." The trio finished with only five points but pulled down fifteen rebounds - ten of those from the senior DeVaughn. With Brown and Mincy doing damage from outside, with Shatori slashing to the basket and AT picking up just about everything else, Maryland didn't need much in terms of scoring production from the post. What they needed was defense and rebounding and they got that in spades - especially in the second half when DeVaughn picked up seven of her ten boards. Two of those came in a critical sequence with about five minutes to play.
The first was an offensive rebound that preceded Mincy's "critical three pointer to push the lead back to a more comfortable twelve." The second was another offensive rebound off the missed front end of a one and one chance. The Terps didn't convert but did run critical seconds off the clock. All three of Howard's second half rebounds came off the offensive glass and the sophomore sank two big free throws with under two minutes to play to help salt away the win.
I've singled out the contributions from Mincy, Walker-Kimbrough, and Howard but the bench as a whole needs a collective shout-out. In a game Maryland won by eleven, the Terrapins' bench outscored the Lady Vols bench 23-15 so people rightfully point to that as an important factor in Maryland's win. Perhaps even more important, was the Terps' 13-6 edge on the boards in a game where Maryland outrebounded Tennessee 42-40 becoming only the third team to out rebound the Vols this season. Finally,
De-Fence - De-Fence
The ESPN hype machine doesn't particularly like Maryland for its disruptive move to the B1G so much of the game they focused on Tennessee's "unforced" turnovers. Well, only two teams turned the Vols over more in their 35 game season - North Carolina in the second game of the season and Troy State in a game in which the Vols took 80 shots and scored 103 points. The only other team to hold Tennessee to under 36 percent shooting was Stanford who matched Maryland's 35.8 percent defensive effort and the sixty-three points they scored was their second lowest total of the season. One might say the Terrapins' defense forced Tennessee to rock-y bottom.
People may begin framing Tuesday night's game as a showdown between Brenda Frese and Jeff Walz but the last time I checked the rules, neither of them should be on the playing floor. The game will be between the players wearing Maryland and Louisville uniforms. Tuesday will be the first meeting between the two programs since the Terrapins' 72-68 win in the second round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament.