Amalie Arena in Tampa has a fabulous video scoreboard - even larger than the one adorning Maryland's Xfinity Center - and if a section of it hadn't been blocked by the National Championship banners festooning the arena, I might have had a fine way to watch the NCAA Women's Basketball semifinal game between Maryland and Connecticut. It certainly was't my perch looking down at the court from the loft termed the North Press Box. The only higher perch would have been in one of the catwalks crisscrossing the building's roof. But life's good. We had nine 40 inch television monitors (and you can guess the brand.)
So here's the view from the press box
I don't have a big lens but...
The Connecticut Huskies were as good as advertised. In the end, the Terps failed had no answer for Breanna Steward and Morgan Tuck. In the end, Maryland's lone senior, Laurin Mincy, who had played such a key role in Maryland's earlier tournament run, ended her Terrapins career with a game she'd sooner forget. In the end, the oddsmakers proved prescient as Connecticut cruised to a 23 point, 81-58 win.
First half - Not enough defense
If South Carolina showed some nerves in the early minutes of the first semifinal game Sunday night, the same certainly could not be said for Maryland when they took the floor against Connecticut in the nightcap. The Terps won the opening tip and Laurin Mincy attacked the basket but missed the layup. Connecticut turned that into a fast break layup. Brionna Jones was called for an offensive foul and Breanna Stewart's layup put the Terrapins in a quick 4-0 hole.
Maryland had a quick response on a driving layup by Lexie Brown and a layup by Jones.. The Terps took an 8-7 lead on a layup by Shatori Walker-Kimbrough but the Huskies drained a second straight three pointer. After Mincy's drive to the basket tied the score at 10, Jones picked up her second foul and went to the bench with 16:04 to play inthe half.
Whether a result of Jones' absence or just the natural game flow, UConn immediately went on a 6-0 run. The teams traded baskets for the next several minutes and went into the under 12 minute time out with the Huskies holding to a 22-16 lead.
As she has all season, Maryland coach Brenda Frese seemed to sense what players to insert to the games. in this instance, that player was Chloe Pavlech who drained the Terps' first three pointer of the game inching Maryland closer. Pavlech had played only once in the NCAA Tournament - 3 minutes in the opener against New Mexico State and had played only a total of 11 minutes appearing in just three of Maryland's last eight games. Connecticut led 24-19 at the next media timeout but they forced the Terps into a five second inbounding violation and made the Terps pay as Stokes found a wide open path to the basket.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis followed with a three pointer and Connecticut's lead touched double digits for the first time. Brown stopped the run but Stewart drained a three pointer and forced a timeout from Frese with just over six minutes to play in the half. Moriah Jefferson's steal and layup put UConn up 34-21.
Walker-Kimbrough made a mid-range jumper and Frese reinserted Jones into the lineup. The move paid immediate dividends as the sophomore made a layup and drew a charge on Morgan Tuck. Still, the Terps were not playing with the defensive intensity and couldn't stop UConn on the offensive end as the Huskies scored with great efficiency.
Brown's three pointer drew Maryland within 39-33 with just under two minutes to play. Back to back baskets by Tuck including a three pointer opened Connecticut's 11 point 44-33 halftime lead. Connecticut scored 1.22 points per possession (ppp) - a pace very near their season efficiency of 1.24 ppp - and worked to push the pace at every opportunity. The Huskies averaged only 15 seconds per possession and were headed to a game in the range of 70 plus possessions. Twenty-four of their 44 points came in the paint.
The Terps were holding their own on the boards, particularly having had to sit Jones for a ten minute stretch, with a deficit of only four. Maryland was scoring reasonably efficiently as well - .917 ppp but was hindered by eight turnovers and an underwhelming 3-10 from behind the arc.
Second half - Too many missed shots
Maryland opened the half with possession and got the ball inside to Jones who missed a layup and had her attempt on the offensive rebound blocked. The Terps got one defensive stop and forced Tuck into a step back three on the Huskies' next possession that, unfortunately for the Maryland contingent, she drained. Stewart blocked Mincy's three point attempt from the corner and scored on a run out to open Connecticut's lead to 16 and Frese wisely called a timeout.
The Terps continued to unravel - turning the ball over on consecutive possessions on an offensive foul and another five second violation. As one would expect from a team of Connecticut's caliber, the Huskies capitalized and opened a 53-33 lead before Maryland got the ball to Jones who ended the Terps 4:04 drought that opened the half. At the under 16 minute timeout, UConn's lead stood at 53-35.
Back to back baskets - a three pointer by Brown and a jumper by Brene Moseley pulled Maryland within 57-42 but Jones lost Stewart on the wing and the junior All-American drained the three. With the Terps trailing by 18, Moseley drove the lane and drew a foul. Coming out of the under 12 minute timeout, Maryland Moseley would go to the line to attempt the Terrapins' first free throws of the game. She made both.
A free throw line jumper by A'Lexus Harrison pulled Maryland within 60-46 but Stewart found herself isolated in the low post guarded by Brown and the sophomore had no choice but to foul. Two free throws, a layup by Kiah Stokes and two missed Maryland three pointers conspired to open the lead back to 20 at 66-46.
Moseley's three pointer staunched the bleeding temporarily but another Tuck jumper and two more Stewart free throws had the lead back over 20. It was simply a matter of winding the clock. Connecticut opened their largest lead at 25 points in the game's final minute and Jones's layup with 24 seconds left closed the scoring as the Huskies dribbled out the 81-56 win.
Maryland made just two of their nine shots from behind the arc in the second half and shot just 32.1 percent overall after shooting nearly 50 percent in the first half. UConn finished right on their season average of 1.24 ppp while holding Maryland far below their 1.09 season long ppp as the Terps scored only .879 ppp.
Still, Terps' fans can take some solace in a great season in which many records were set and new benchmarks achieved. As Frese said after the game, "Like I told the team in the locker room, when you look at our season and go 34-3 and two of our three losses came from teams that are playing for the national championship game, that's a heck of a season."
Enough said, coach.