UConn (10-0) handed Maryland (11-1) their first loss of the season, 83-73, in the Maggie Dixon Classic at Madison Square Garden.
The Terps were up against what is probably the best frontcourt tandem in the country in Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck. Stewart and Tuck did what Stewart and Tuck do. Stewart had 23 points, six rebounds, seven assists and two blocks. Tuck finished with 17 points, eights boards and six dimes. They were sensational. Their performances would normally allow UConn to dominate large stretches of games and turn the contest into a laugher. That wasn't the case on Monday night. Brionna Jones is a big reason why.
Jones is also one of the best bigs in the country, and the Terrapins looked to establish her early. She was 4-4 with eight points through the first quarter. Jones paced the Terps as they shot 49 percent from the floor in the first half and scored 20 of their 32 points in the paint.
After UConn scored four straight points to start the second half, Jones went right to the basket and scored to get Maryland back on track. After going 4-4 in the first quarter, Jones only took three shots in the next two quarters. She attributed that to playing inside-out and trying to play within the game plan. Jones poured in 12 points in the fourth quarter, shot a sensational 12-14 in the game and finished with a game-high 24 points and seven rebounds.
Maryland pushed and pushed and pushed. Ultimately, they fell short but Geno Auriemma, the Huskies head coach, took notice. "Sometimes we make it look really easy. A game like today reminds all of us that this is not supposed to be easy. It's supposed to be really hard when you play great teams...Tonight there were two really good teams on the floor."
Auriemma said that the Terps might be one of the toughest and most dangerous teams for UConn to play. Jones is a big reason why. "Maryland is a really tough matchup for us because they're so big inside. We can't handle that unless we get some help and the minute we help, they've got guys that can make you pay for it, knocking in threes. They're much more balanced than they were last year. They're a lot harder to matchup with."
Maryland knows who their role players are. They have chemistry and experience. UConn is still figuring out what to do with some of their younger players. I expect the Huskies to have figured some things out come March but they won't suddenly be able to stop Jones from getting to the rim when she wants to. Some early foul trouble limited Jones but her presence inside opened up space for Maryland's three-point shooters. Kristen Confroy and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough shot well from deep. Pfirman, another Maryland forward, had 7 points and three rebounds in just nine minutes of action.
UConn can be had this year. Maryland could be the team that stops them. If the Terps finally break through against the nation's best, it will be because of Brionna Jones. Playing on national television, she put out a statement with her play. She is one of the best in the country. Jones just torched UConn in late December. Can she do it again in April? The answer to that question will go a long way in determining whether Maryland wins it all and cuts down the nets for the first time in a decade.