A Little History Lesson
My sensei and existential crisis coach, Todd Carton, did an excellent job of showcasing the history between Maryland and Northwestern. That was heading into Maryland's Big Ten opener in Evanston where the Terps pasted the Wildcats 16-5. This is the fifth time in the past six seasons that Maryland and Northwestern have played each other in the NCAA Tournament but this is the first time in those six years that these two teams have met outside of the Final Four.
Northwestern was trying to make it to their 11th straight Final Four while Maryland was trying to make it to their seventh straight Final Four. The two schools have combined to win nine of the last ten national titles.
Taylor Cummings got the opening draw control but Maryland turned it over on a sloppy pass. Alice Mercer forced a ground ball and Nadine Hadnagy scooped it up to give Maryland the ball back. Cummings, the reigning Tewaaraton Award winner, got the scoring started with a free position goal just four minutes into the game. Selena Lasota, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, tied it up for Northwestern at the 23:30 mark as she turned the corner on Alice Mercer and fired across her body for the goal. It was Lasota's 68th goal of the season.
Fitzpatrick made a save but overthrew the pass and Maryland turned it back over. Sheila Nesselbush scored an unassisted goal with 17:59 left in the half to give the Wildcats a 2-1 lead. The Maryland defense forced a turnover to give Maryland a chance to tie it back up. Erin Collins drew an eight meter and converted with 14:41 left to make it a 2-2 game.
Cummings drew an eight meter and passed it off to Kristen Lamon, who scored to give Maryland a 3-2 lead. Cummings was issued a yellow card and the Wildcats went up a person but a bad pass gave the Terps the ball back. Brooke Griffin came from behind the cage and scored a crafty goal even with a double team on her to give the Terps a 4-2 lead.
Lasota scored her second goal of the game with just over seven minutes to play in the half to bring Northwestern back within one. Shelby Fredericks got the draw control for Northwestern but Megan Douty, a Tewaaraton finalist last season, picked off a pass intended for Lasota. Megan Whitle, Maryland's star freshman, took a pass from Zoe Stukenberg and fired off a hard bounce shot that beat Bridget Bianco to push the lead back to two.
Fitzpatrick saved a shot from Lasota and Kelly McPartland buried a free position goal on the other end shooting from the hip to give Maryland a 6-3 lead with 1:51 to go in the half. Sheila Nesselbush scored her second goal of the game with 38 seconds left to trim the deficit to two. Northwestern won the ensuing draw but couldn't get a shot off and the teams went into halftime with Maryland leading 6-4.
Two of Maryland's trademarks throughout this season has been taking a lot of shots every game (around 30 per game on average) and beating teams on the draw. That script was flipped today in the first half. Northwestern dominated the draw (8-3) and out-shot the Terps 13-7. Maryland scored half of their six goals on free positions while Northwestern didn't have a single free position in the half. Maryland had six different goal scorers in the first half while Northwestern got a pair of goals from both Lasota and Nesselbush.
Maryland picked up the opening draw and Lamon scored just 28 seconds into the second half off of an assist from Collins. Maryland won the ensuing draw and McPartland found Collins for her second goal of the game. In 1:32, the Terps picked up two draws, scored two goals, and took an 8-4 lead. Griffin took a pass from Lamon and fired a rocket past Bianco for her second goal of the game at the 27:30 mark. After Griffin's goal, Maryland was nine of ten shooting in the game.
Fitzpatrick made a save on the next possession and Maryland went back the other way. McPartland found Lamon again near the right side of the goal and Lamon took a few steps towards the goal, faked and shot over two defenders for her third goal of the game. Collins picked up the next draw control and Stukenberg did a give and go with Collins, who picked up a hat trick of her own with the goal.
With 23:43 left in the game, Maryland had scored five unanswered goals. They won five of the first six draws in the half and led 11-4 after going into halftime up 6-4. Stukenberg converted an eight meter to make it a 6-0 run with 22:12 left in the game. In the first 10 minutes of the second half, the Terps had completely changed the complexity of the game. They were up 12-4 and shooting 86 percent on 12 of 14 shooting.
McPartland found Griffin coming across the middle with 18:40 left in the game. Griffin side-armed the shot for the hat trick. Griffin then made an absolutely ludicrous, SportsCenter-worthy highlight goal while she was on the ground for her fourth goal of the game just a minute later. The goal made it 14-4 in favor of the Terps. The ball popped out of Lasota's stick as Northwestern tried to end the run and that play was a microcosm of the second half for the Wildcats. It was all Maryland in the second half.
McPartland scored a free position goal with 10:46 left in the game but Kaleigh Craig answered for Northwestern less than a minute later. Cummings scored an easy goal off of an assist from Lamon with just over seven minutes left. Northwestern controlled the draw but turned it over. Lamon finished off a pass from Mattie Meredith to make it 17-5 in favor of Maryland with under four to play. Maryland ran out the clock and the Terps knocked off their nemesis, Northwestern, to make it seven straight trips to the national semifinals.
This game was competitive for 30 minutes and then turned into a laugher early in the second half. Here are some stats to give you an idea of how Maryland dominated the final 30 minutes. Maryland led 17-6 in shots, 8-5 in draw controls, and, most importantly, 11-1 in scoring.
Maryland's fifth, sixth, and seventh highest goal scorers (McPartland, Lamon, and Collins) combined for nine goals. Lamon was a dominant force, with four goals and two assists. She had a game-high six points. Griffin scored four goals for Maryland and McPartland had three goals and two assists. Seven Terps scored goals and six recorded assists.
The game was won in the first eight minutes of the second half. Maryland scored six straight goals in 7:48 to turn a close and competitive 6-4 game into a 12-4 game with Maryland in complete control. The Terrapins added three more goals over the next 12 minutes to put the game well out of reach for Northwestern.
Maryland looked incredibly dangerous today on offense and defense and what is most surprising is that they won this game by 12 goals despite losing the draw control battle (13-11) for the first time this season. They were 6/7 shooting in the first half and 11/17 shooting in the second half, shooting 71 percent in the game.
The defense was superb. Megan Douty hounded and harassed one of the best players in the country in Selena Lasota. It took Northwestern over 20 minutes to score in the second half. The defense was a huge part of why Maryland won in such dominant fashion today. The offense was fluid and they were excellent in their execution. If you take away Maryland's five free position goals, there were 10 assists on 12 Maryland goals.
If you want to know why Maryland blasted Northwestern 17-5 en route to their seventh straight Final Four, all you really need to do is listen to the words uttered by NFL Pro-Bowler and former University of Miami Hurricane football star Santana Moss:
"Big time players step up in big games."
That about sums it up. Maryland's players stepped up in the second half and Northwestern's didn't. Maryland's senior captains, Brooke Griffin, Kelly McPartland, and Megan Douty, all made major contributions. Griffin and McPartland combined for six goals and three assists while Douty helped to shut down Selena Lasota, who came into the game with 67 goals on the season and only finished with two. Erin Collins, another senior, had three goals and an assist as well. The defense played incredibly well and Alex Fitzpatrick had five saves while only allowing five goals.
"I'm really proud of my team's effort...On the offensive end we executed everything that we were asking of them to a "t" in the second half," head coach Cathy Reese said after the game.
Maryland is headed back to the Final Four for the seventh straight time and the Terps will face Syracuse in a rematch of last year's national championship game. Maryland is now just two wins away from repeating as national champions. That is the bottom line.