No. 4-seed Maryland women’s basketball dominated No. 12-seed Florida Gulf Coast in transition and imposed its will in the 89-65 victory at the Xfinity Center on Sunday. With the win, the Terps advanced to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, which will be held in Spokane, Washington.
Maryland had three players score at least 20 points, led by junior guard Diamond Miller who kept her offensive hot streak going, as she led all scorers with 24 points, while grabbing nine rebounds. Sophomore forward/guard Angel Reese and junior guard Ashley Owusu also combined for 41 points and 10 rebounds in the last game that will be played in College Park this season for head coach Brenda Frese’s team.
With the victory over FGCU, Maryland will head to its 10th Sweet 16 in the last 20 seasons under the leadership of head coach Brenda Frese.
Maryland will now challenge No. 1-seed Stanford on Friday with a chance to move on to the Elite Eight on Friday.
Here are three takeaways from the Terps’ win in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Terps did a solid job defending the 3-point line and it began to pay off.
FGCU is a team that lives and dies by the 3-point shot. The Eagles attempted 38 shots from beyond the arc in their first round upset victory over Virginia Tech.
“What we actually call ourselves is ‘Raining Threes.’ And it’s something that we take a lot of pride in. It’s a fun way to play basketball,” FGCU forward Andrea Cecil said. “And we focus on getting our 3-pointers and that’s our game. And that’s our style.”
At halftime, the Eagles had already recorded 18 attempts from 3-point range. FGCU guard Kendall Spray was sizzling from three in the first half, with five made 3-pointers. Spray knocked down her fifth three with 3:32 remaining in the second quarter and then Maryland’s defense cranked its focus up a notch.
“We realized we weren’t talking and we were just kind of playing off each other but you need to communicate on defense,” Miller said about her team defending the three.
Maryland went on to hold FGCU scoreless the final three and a half minutes heading into halftime. The Terps would only relinquish four 3-point field goals on 17 attempts from three for the remainder of the game.
Spray finished with 17 points and did not register a single point in the second half.
Maryland was able to limit FGCU’s Kierstan Bell’s impact.
FGCU forward Kierstan Bell is projected by many to be a top-10 pick in the WNBA Draft.
However, Bell was held in check on Sunday versus the Terps, as she saw multiple defenders when she tried to slip into the paint on ball screens. Maryland consistently communicated defensive commands to one another to identify Bell in an effort to contest all of her shots.
The Terps were forcing Bell into helping defenders and keeping a body on her at all times.
She showed moments of frustration throughout the game and she ultimately was unable to establish a rhythm on the offensive end of the floor.
“Yeah, I was very frustrated. Things weren’t going our way, but I was just trying to stay together with my teammates,” Bell said. “My teammates were encouraging me because this isn’t what we wanted. But, I’m glad everybody kept putting in effort.”
Bell recorded 14 points, but struggled mightily from the field, as she went 6-for-20 overall and just 2-of-13 (around 15%) from beyond the arc.
Limiting Bell’s effectiveness was pivotal to the Terps’ success and they rode a brilliant defensive performance into a victory, allowing just 65 total points to the visitors.
The Terps’ top scorers, as well as dominance from the free throw line, helped them eventually pull away.
As the importance of each game undoubtedly increases in March, points are at a premium and making free throws becomes crucial when looking to advance in the NCAA Tournament.
Maryland certainly looked like a team ready to pounce on its opportunities in the matchup with FGCU. The Terps got to the free throw line at will and capitalized on plenty of chances at a high clip.
Maryland finished with 30 total attempts from the free throw line, 24 more than its opponent, while hitting 22 of those shots. Twenty of those 30 tries came in the second half alone.
The Terps’ top scorers were also a big reason as to why they will be moving on to the Sweet 16.
Maryland’s Reese had a stellar game once again, finishing with 21 points and nine rebounds. Reese was also dominant in the paint as she consistently powered up for strong layups and decisive drives in the lane.
But what was more impressive was her ability to be efficient from the charity stripe. The Baltimore native made 11 of her 14 free throw attempts and has been putting in additional work to improve her efficiency in this critical area.
“Man, I’ve been focused on free throws,” Reese jokingly said. “I’ve been shooting a lot of free throws. 50 free throws after practice. So I need to step up and make my free throws and I’ve been really focused. I was kind of frustrated that I missed three of them tonight.”
Owusu kept her hot streak going as she has looked like her usual self and back to being one of the craftiest guards in the country with the basketball in her hands. She had 20 points and, like Reese, was decisive in getting to her spots on the floor.
Miller found a way to continue her hot streak, too. She collected 14 points in the first half and made three 3-pointers. Miller kept applying pressure in the second half and was determined to lead the Terps to victory.
Reese, Miller and Owusu combined for 65 of Maryland’s 89 total points. That output from that trio alone matched FGCU’s point total.
But with FGCU and Maryland trading buckets back-and-forth midway through the second quarter, the score was surprisingly tight. However, midway through the third quarter, Maryland went on a 17-0 run that would put the game out of reach to send the Terps celebrating on their home floor for the final time this season.
There was a moment in the game where Reese and Miller spoke to one another about not being denied a spot in next week’s Sweet 16.
“Yeah, me and Diamond were at the scorers table and about to check in and I remember Diamond saying we’re not gonna lose this game,” Reese said.
The stars shined for Maryland in the second round of the NCAA Tournament and they’ll have another chance to prove what they can do later this week in the Sweet 16 against Stanford.