The recurring theme for Maryland women's basketball this season is depth. Coach Brenda Frese doesn't merely look up and down her cast of players for minutes but for production. And the roles seem to change from game to game.
The weekend's games are a case in point. Thursday night against Syracuse, the Terps got their expected contribution from Alyssa Thomas and her co-star Shatori Walker-Kimbrough but the keys that night were the double-double from Brionna Jones (18 points / 10 rebounds) and ten points and seven assists from Brene Moseley. In Sunday's 92-81 Terrapin win over the visiting Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Jones played 7 minutes with two points and no rebounds while Moseley didn't score and had a single assist in her nine minutes of actions.
So whence the production? For best performance in a lead role, the nominees are, as usual, Alyssa Thomas with 24 points and 14 rebounds and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough with a smooth 12 points including two key second half baskets in just 9 minutes. The nominees for best supporting players were Alicia DeVaughn with 13 points and 7 rebounds, Lexie Brown who poured in 15 points with 4 assists and only two turnovers against the Yellow Jackets' swarming defense, and Tierney Pfirman whose 10 second half points followed a mere cameo appearance in the first half. Starting doesn't necessarily equate to starring for this cast of characters.
Seconds after Sunday's opening tip, Lexie Brown dropped in a three point jumper from the left wing. With the Terps up 6-2 after three straight points from Laurin Mincy, DeVaughn grabbed an offensive rebound and made the first of her seven stops on the free throw line where she would make eleven of twelve attempts. She made both to give Maryland an 8-2 lead. Despite a poor shooting start to the game for the Terps, the teams reached the first media timeout tied at ten.
Maryland trailed 17-16 at the under twelve timeout and, though they had only one turnover against Tech's myriad traps, to that point they weren't defending well and had only sporadic success attacking the press for open looks at the basket. Though the officials missed a GT elbow to Thomas' eye that sent the senior staggering to the floor, they spotted enough fouls that the Terps were in the bonus with about ten and a half minutes to play. Maryland started to find their shooting range in the middle of the half and a traditional three point play by DeVaughn, followed by a steal and a three pointer from Katie Rutan, put the Terps up 29-22 with just under nine minutes to play in the half.
But the better shooting was offset by some sloppier ball handling and the visitors went on a 12-2 run to take a three point lead. The Terps responded with a 10-4 burst that featured six points from Shatori. However, retaking the lead didn't take the sting out of the Yellow Jackets and a layup with two seconds left in the half gave them a 44-43 lead at the break.
The game was clearly shaping up to be a typical Terrapins - Tech scrap:
Per DeVaughn: "It's a very physical game. Every time we play them it's a war. You can't feed into that. Just play your game and stay poised."
Per Thomas: "It was a typical game. You expect it to be a very physical game with bodies flying. That's just the type of game when we get together and matchup against Georgia Tech."
Per Coach Frese: "I compare these games against Georgia Tech like going to the dentist. Every time we play them in these matchups, they're close, they're tight. It's tough physical battles."
There was an uncomfortable halftime buzz in the arena because, in addition to their lead on the scoreboard, the Jackets had out rebounded the Terps by five and had a 22-14 edge on points in the paint - two areas I'm sure the coaches stressed in the locker room.
The second half didn't start well for Maryland as Georgia Tech freshman sensation Kaela Davis stung the Terps with a three pointer that immediately upped their lead to four. However, two free throws by DeVaughn ignited a 13-1 Terrapin run that included two sweet as honey three pointers from Brown that put the Terps up 56-48. The opening of the second half also saw an escalation in whistles emanating from the court. When Pfirman made the first of two free throw attempts that gave Maryland their eight point lead with 15:43 to play, the teams had been whistled for a combined ten fouls. And that pace continued with 31 fouls called in the half.
With 14:27 to play, the officials issued a technical foul to the Georgia Tech bench. On the floor for the Terrapins were Thomas, Rutan, Brown, Pfirman and DeVaughn. Rather than sending Thomas or Brown, Coach Frese elected to send DeVaughn to the line to shoot the free throws. Why? The senior is having a solid season at 77.5% and had made all nine of her attempts to that point in the game. Asked if she was surprised, DeVaughn said, "Yes, I was. First, when they called the tech Lexie looked at me and said, ‘Leesh, you're going to the line' and I was like no you got it and then I looked at Coach B and she signaled that I was going to the line. I thought, oh, okay." The senior made both - rewarding her coach's faith in deciding to go with the hot player.
Brown came up with a steal on Tech's next possession and Thomas made one of two free throws to get the Terps their first double digit lead of the game. But it's never easy and Tech followed with a 6-0 run to pull within four. Two Shatori jumpers kept them at arm's length, however. With 8:50 to play the Jackets narrowed the lead to four for the last time at 69-65. Six straight Maryland points - four by Thomas and a jumper by Pfirman - once again pushed the Terrapins lead to double digits.
Tech began scrambling in their press and the Terps would commit five turnovers in the last five and a half minutes. Fortunately, Maryland's defense aided by Georgia Tech fatigue and accurate free throw shooting from Thomas and Pfirman preserved a deceptively comfortable margin.
Though the Terps came away with the win the coaches, will be able to stress some areas to work on in practice. First, Tech outrebounded the Terps 43-38 including grabbing 22 offensive rebounds. Second, they forced Maryland into a season high 23 turnovers. These combined to yield an 80-49 shot advantage for Georgia Tech. The Jackets launched 43 shots in the second half alone. Fortunately, only 13 found the bottom of the net. The win moves the Terps to 16-1 overall and 4-0 in ACC play.
Of note, on Monday January 27,
third second ranked Notre Dame comes to Comcast Center. The Irish shoot over 50% on the season so allowing them 80 shots will probably not be a good thing. Before that, Maryland travels to Charlottesville to take on Virginia. The 8-9 (1-3 ACC) Cavaliers handed an 85-68 smack down at John Paul Jones Arena Sunday so the game is not to be taken lightly.