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No. 4-seed Maryland women’s basketball took off for Spokane, Washington, for a Sweet 16 matchup with the defending national champions and top-seeded Stanford Cardinals on March 25 at Spokane Arena. In a game loaded with big-time players on both sides of the court, Stanford rode a scorching start to secure a 72-66 victory over Maryland to halt the Terps’ run in the NCAA Tournament.
The Terps came out the gates playing nervous and timid, which is something that cannot happen when facing a team loaded with talent like Stanford.
The Cardinal's rotation is deep and full of athletes that have shown an ability to play cohesively and execute at a high level. Stanford’s trio of Haley Jones, Cameron Brink, and Lexie Hull combined for 51 points, 27 rebounds, and nine assists in the victory.
Although Maryland did not defeat Stanford, a team that is now off to the Final Four, head coach Brenda Frese’s team exhibited fight in the second half. Sophomore forward/guard Angel Reese showcased her versatile skill set with aggressive attacks to the basket and had an efficient performance at the free throw line. The Baltimore native finished with 25 points, nine rebounds and an 83% percent from the free throw line.
Reese cashed in 26 of 31 free throws in the NCAA Tournament, after shooting a 68% percentage in the regular season.
The loss makes it two consecutive Sweet 16 defeats for Maryland. Although the Terps did not advance, their effort never faltered, evidenced by their 30 points in the final quarter.
Let’s take a look at the film from Maryland’s loss.
The Terps struggled to defend backdoor cuts to the rim.
Stanford uses an offense with plenty of back door cuts, dribble handoffs and an outstanding ability to set strong screens. With 6:41 remaining in the first quarter, Stanford charged down the court in transition after securing a defensive rebound.
Stanford guard Haley Jones dribbled to the left and handed the ball to guard Anna Wilson. Wilson then took two hard dribbles to her left. Stanford forward Cameron Brink did an excellent job of moving without the basketball in this situation.
Brink used a sudden scissor cut to the basket and beat Maryland graduate forward Chloe Bibby on a backdoor cut to the hoop. Wilson was then able to find Brink in stride for the easy layup. The layup gave Stanford the early momentum as it led after the first quarter, 22-10.
When you’re facing a team with as much offensive motion as Stanford, you want to discipline with your eyes and defensive alignment.
The dribble penetration by Wilson caused Bibby to briefly lose contact with her assignment, which led to the basket. Bibby would’ve likely been better off if she stayed underneath Brink so that if Wilson made the pass, it would be deflected or stolen by the Terps.
Then with under four minutes remaining in the second quarter, Stanford made Maryland pay again on a timely cut. Stanford’s Jones dribbled left then ventured towards her right, as Stanford guard Lexie Hull was standing in the corner.
Hull noticed Jones dribbling in her direction, then cut to set up a backdoor cut down the baseline for a layup. She caught the pass from Jones in stride and evaded Maryland’s star Reese on a double-pump layup that extended Stanford’s lead to 29-19.
Maryland freshman guard Shyanne Sellers was defending Hull on the play and lost sight of the Stanford guard for a split second. Sellers could have allowed more space to properly defend the passing lane and the ability to go backdoor for an easy bucket.
Stanford would ride a hot start to a 39-23 lead at the half on over 50% shooting from the field.
Stanford’s ability to move the ball across the floor was on display.
As the game moved to the second half, Stanford used decisive ball movement and court vision to find a open looks from behind the arc.
In the third quarter with Maryland trying to claw back into the game, Stanford ran its offense with the goal of once again securing a high-percentage shot on this possession.
Stanford guard Lexie Hull found forward Francesca Belibi on the elbow, then Belibi caught the ball and immediately got into a triple-threat position. The junior found Hull in the corner for a wide-open 3-pointer. Hull drained the 3-pointer to give Stanford the 16-point lead as it stood as a 44-28 advantage.
Hull had come into the game firing on all cylinders, as she recorded 36 points in the 91-65 victory over Kansas in the Round of 32. She had also been scorching from three, sinking six of 11 of her 3-pointers in the contest.
With Hull red-hot from deep, Maryland needed to clog the passing lanes, as she is a constant threat to make defenders pay for defensive miscues. Hull finished with just the lone 3-pointer, but ended with a team-high 19 points.
Stanford’s ball movement hurt Maryland all game long as it finished with 15 assists and 46% shooting from the floor.
Maryland isn't a team that will to give up, no matter the game situation.
The Terps showed outstanding grit and fight in the fourth quarter to position themselves to get back into the game. With just over five minutes remaining in the game, Maryland graduate guard Katie Benzan found Bibby. The Australian took a few hard dribbles towards the basket, forcing the defense to converge on her.
Bibby found Reese for the layup and she was fouled in the process.
Maryland is lethal when Bibby and Reese can find one another when the defense collapses. The two talented players are extremely unselfish and always looking to make the right play.
Stanford secured the victory and will head to the Final Four this weekend in Minneapolis, with the chance to capture back-to-back national titles if it manages to advance.
Maryland exhibited its ability to compete with Stanford, but a game-changing slow start was too much to overcome.
Frese’s team will lose two key starters in Benzan and Bibby next season, but will return several key contributors that will likely once again have them in contention in the NCAA Tournament next season.