No. 8 Maryland women’s basketball had a colossal road task standing in front of it with No. 1 South Carolina, but it was relentless in keeping the game neck-and-neck for four quarters.
Leading 61-59, South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley called a timeout with just over one minute to play and her team had possession. Junior forward Aliyah Boston missed the layup off the inbounds play, but as they had been all night, South Carolina was there for the offensive rebound.
Senior forward Victaria Saxton grabbed the offensive board and was fouled by freshman guard Shyanne Sellers. She only made one free throw, and South Carolina had a 62-59 lead with 48 seconds remaining.
The Terps got a great look on their next offensive possession, drawing up a play for Reese to drive to the rim. Sophomore forward/guard Angel Reese’s layup hit the backboard and the rim, but it ultimately did not fall. She fouled junior forward Laeticia Amihere, sending her to the line, where she would make the first free-throw and miss the second. There for the offensive rebound was Boston.
She was fouled, but only made one-of-two free throws herself. The Gamecocks again got the offensive rebound and Amihere had another opportunity for two free-throws, but she missed them both and the Terps finally grabbed a defensive board.
Graduate student guard Benzan missed stepback three with 20 seconds left, and Boston corralled the defensive board. Maryland fought, but that would be the icing on the cake in South Carolina’s 66-59 victory.
“Just a great game between two really, really good teams,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “Really, really proud of our team’s fight to come into this building and compete the way we have for 40 minutes. This is what I built the schedule for, to prepare us for March.”
Both teams were missing star players on Sunday, as Maryland junior guard Diamond Miller (knee) and South Carolina’s second-leading scorer in senior guard Destanni Henderson did not play.
The Terps opened up in a 3-2 zone defense and mixed up different looks, seemingly trying to bother All-American forward Aliyah Boston early and often.
Even though it did not score on its first offensive set, Reese got Maryland on the board first with a layup. The Terps held a 5-4 lead at the first media timeout, but it was not exactly an ideal start for either side. The Gamecocks started 2-of-10 from the field, while Maryland left three early points at the free-throw line, including a rare 0-for-2 stint from junior guard Ashley Owusu.
Redshirt junior forward Mimi Collins was not shy early, confidently drilling two triples in the span of three possessions to give the Terps a 13-8 lead with less than three minutes to play in the first quarter.
South Carolina ended the quarter on a 5-0 spurt, capping it off with a bucket from freshman guard Saniya Rivers. Although the two offenses only combined to shoot 10-of-34 in the first 10 minutes, it was still an entertaining frame that ended tied at 13 apiece.
Reese got the second quarter started with a deep two-point jumper, putting the Terps back in front. The star sophomore continued to be assertive, drawing the first foul on Boston on Maryland’s next offensive possession.
Benzan then hit a three from the wing on her first shot attempt to give the Terps a 19-17 lead with about eight and a half minutes to play in the second quarter. However, the Gamecocks rattled off a 10-2 run to take a 27-21 lead at the media timeout.
Owusu struggled in the first half, only making one of her first 10 shots from the field. She did hit her 11th attempt, though, a much-needed fast-break jumper to slice the Gamecocks’ lead to 30-28.
“They put their best defender on her, and they hawked her the entire game,” Frese said. “So, for us, setting screens, alleviating some of that pressure. I thought Ashley got tired, you saw some fatigue, but that’s the respect that you get when you get the best defender.”
South Carolina went into the halftime locker room with a 34-30 lead, as junior guard Zia Cooke scored four points in the last 66 seconds of the half. Reese was sensational in the first half with 12 points, three rebounds, one block and one steal, but the Terps had to feel fortunate to only be losing by four at half. Maryland only shot 34% from the field and did not get much offensively out of Owusu and the other starters.
The third quarter provided a much quicker start offensively, with the two teams trading buckets throughout the first couple minutes. Benzan began to heat up for Maryland, hitting her second and third threes to cut the Gamecocks’ lead to 40-38 with just under eight minutes to play in the third quarter.
About one minute later, Collins got the steal on the press and seamlessly pulled up for a mid-range jumper, capping off a 7-0 run and tying the game once more at 40.
Just 11 seconds after Collins’ game-tying make, South Carolina immediately generated a 7-0 run of its own. The Gamecocks grabbed three offensive rebounds in the stretch and were dominating the glass and the second-chance points battle. Trailing 47-40 with just over five minutes to play in the third quarter, Frese was forced to burn a timeout.
The Terps responded out of the timeout, chipping away at the deficit and bringing it back to four points with a layup from junior guard/forward Faith Masonius. Maryland followed that up with a stop on the defensive end, and Reese responded with a difficult bucket around Boston. Reese had 16 points, and Maryland was behind 48-46 with fewer than two minutes to play in the third quarter.
The third quarter wrapped up with Reese’s last-second layup getting blocked by Rivers. Maryland found itself in the same position it was at halftime, down by four points.
Reese was helped off the floor with seven and a half minutes to play with what appeared to be a bad cramp. Despite Reese checking out of the game, the Terps continued with what would be an 8-0 run that lasted nearly four minutes.
Masonius made a beautiful move from the perimeter toward the basket for a layup, handing the Terps a 55-53 lead with exactly six and a half minutes to play. Fortunately for the Terps, Reese checked back in the game with just fewer than six minutes to play.
The Gamecocks responded to Maryland’s extended burst with a quick 4-0 sequence. South Carolina led 57-55 at the final timeout, and Sunday’s marquee matchup was in for a climactic ending.
Out of the timeout, Rivers was charged with a reach-in foul on Masonius, and Maryland was in the bonus. Masonius only sunk one of the two free throws, bringing South Carolina’s lead down to one.
Boston matched Masonius on the other end with only one free throw, but Owusu came up short on the next mid-range jumper. Saxton hit a layup for South Carolina, and the Gamecocks were again ahead by four points.
Cooke went one of two from the free-throw line to put the Gamecocks up five, and Reese again had the answer. The Baltimore native took it right into Boston for the layup plus the foul, making it a 61-59 ballgame.
“Playing against some of the best bigs in the country, Aliyah Boston is a great post player,” Reese said. “And, I mean, Kamilla Cardoso, having her coming in too and Victaria Saxton...I feel like I did best as I could and my teammates did as best as we could. I mean, we put up a fight. All those girls are what, 6’4”, 6’5”, I’m the tallest one on my team.”
Maryland was able to get a stop on its next defensive possession, but Collins’ ensuing turnaround jumper from the elbow rimmed around and out.
South Carolina kept the door open late for Maryland with all the missed free throws, but the Terps could not keep the Gamecocks off the glass when it mattered most.
“I’m happy with my teammates, and I know I would go to war with them anyway,” Reese said.
Three things to know
1. Maryland made its defensive plan clear early: pack it in. The Terps would throw different defensive zones and presses at the Gamecocks in the first half. Maryland was daring the Gamecocks to beat it from distance and was unwilling to allow Boston to establish her dominance inside. In 17 first-half minutes, Boston scored four points on only four shot attempts.
“For our zone defense, I think the key points today were to pack it in the zone,” Masonius said. “We know they like to drive, we know they got big post players, so we really focused on packing it in and getting out to those shooters just on the path of the ball. But, I think it definitely gave South Carolina some difficulty inside.”
2. Angel Reese again filled the stat sheet against an All-American, but Ashley Owusu was not herself. Reese had already performed well against All-American bigs this season in Baylor’s NaLyssa Smith and NC State’s Elissa Cunane. Reese was again instrumental in the Terps’ fight against the Gamecocks, leading them with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Owusu ended up finishing with 11 points, but shot an inefficient 3-of-17 from the field.
“I thought Angel just showed why she’s one of the best big guards in the country,” Frese said. “I thought she was a really hard matchup, really drew a ton of fouls, made a lot of great plays for us.”
3. South Carolina controlled the boards on both sides of the floor. Frese noted Saturday that Maryland would need to keep the Gamecocks off the glass, and perhaps Maryland’s defensive game plan reflected that. South Carolina has been top-five in the nation in rebounding margin and rebounds per game since the 2019-20 season, making it much easier said than done for Maryland. South Carolina won the rebounding battle, 61-34. It also grabbed 24 offensive rebounds, resulting in 24 second-chance points.
“Moral of the story was rebounding,” Frese said. “The size, you saw that late game. You can’t go minus-27 on the glass like we did and give up 24 [offensive] boards. But, areas that I know we can correct and improve on.”