If you didn't read Thomas Kendziora's preview column or you have been living under a rock for the past 20 years, UConn women's basketball has dominated the sport in an almost unthinkable manner. The Huskies have won five of the last seven national championships, including the last three in a row. Maryland has not fared well against UConn or the Huskies' closest competitor, Notre Dame, in recent years.
2014-2015: 81-58 loss to UConn in the Final Four (23 points)
2013-2014: 72-55 loss to UConn in the regular season in College Park (17 points)
2013-2014: 87-61 loss to Notre Dame in the Final Four (26 points)
2012-2013: 63-48 loss to UConn in the regular season in Storrs (15 points)
2012-2013: 70-56 loss to UConn in the Sweet 16 (14 points)
2011-2012: 80-49 loss to Notre Dame in the Elite Eight (31 points)
Tonight was a very different story. The Terrapins went toe-to-toe with UConn in the first half. The Huskies led by as many as seven in the first half but the Terps battled back. However, there was a key stretch late in the half that proved costly for the Terrapins. Maryland was up 32-29 with 2:49 left in the first half. The Terps turned the ball over twice and UConn used those gifts to go on a 7-0 run to close the half. After outplaying UConn for much of the half, the Terrapins trailed by four heading into the half.
After a particularly brutal-to-watch stretch of basketball by both teams, Maryland took the lead on Brianna Fraser's old-school three-point play. UConn showed the grit and determination of championship teams by going on a 9-0 run over 2:12 in the third quarter. The Huskies put the ball in the hands of Stewart and Tuck and let them make plays. Stewart made a jumper to start the run. Then she blocked a fast-break attempt, and Kia Nurse hit an open three to give UConn the lead. Tuck passed over the top to Stewart who laid it in easily off the glass to push the lead to five. Tuck went hard to the basket on the next possession and scored to cap off the run. The Terps were up two points and in just two minutes, they found themselves down seven. The Huskies used a 15-4 run over the final 4:35 of the third quarter to take a nine point lead into the final frame.
In the end, UConn proved to be too much for the Terrapins. Maryland's 10 turnovers in the second half (they had 12 in the first half) gave UConn opportunity after opportunity. Great teams like UConn make the most of those opportunities and that held true tonight. The Huskies weathered Maryland's fourth quarter comeback attempt and won, 83-73.
No team likes to lose, but in tonight's loss lies a moral victory for Maryland. The Terrapins fought for 40 minutes. They had an answer for every UConn run until that key stretch to end the third quarter. They fell behind by too much and Saniya Chong hit a back-breaking three to essentially end the game. Maryland head coach Brenda Frese loved her team's effort. "Nobody wants to lose...but I loved that we responded punch for punch...I loved the confidence and the swagger that we played with. There was no fear. I thought we competed really hard for 40 minutes."
This Maryland team knows that they have what it takes to compete with the best in the country. They were right there. "Now we know what we're capable of," said Shatori Walker-Kimbrough after the game. Geno Auriemma, the legendary UConn head coach, said that Maryland presents a lot of problems for them. "They're much more balanced than they were last year. They're a lot harder to match up with."
The Terps open conference play on Thursday. While it is important for Maryland to clear their minds and move on from this loss, Frese gave her team a piece of advice after the game that they should hold onto as they attempt to reach their third straight Final Four.
"If we continue to work this hard and compete, big things are in store for this team come March."