Maryland basketball’s loss to UConn was a cat-and-mouse game.
Early on, the Huskies were the cat, scoring the first seven points on their way to a 9-2 lead; the Terps were the mouse, answering back to tie the game at 10.
The game would stay this way throughout the first half, as UConn counter-punched with a 10-2 run to end the first quarter. After the Huskies controlled the tempo in the first quarter, Maryland controlled it to get back in the game in the second quarter, going on a 9-2 run to cut UConn’s lead to 22-21.
Kaila Charles tied the game at 27 two minutes later, but once again it was the Huskies’ turn to punch back. Kia Nurse hit two three-pointers to lead a 9-0 run for UConn. The Terps answered back with four of their own, and a coast-to-coast layup by Blair Watson cut the lead to 36-31 heading into the locker room.
“I think everyone was pretty upset at how the first half ended,” UConn head coach Geno Auriemma said. “For us to go from having all the momentum to ending the half with a turnover and a layup, it got our attention.”
But like so many times over Auriemma’s 32-year career as the Huskies head coach, his team broke open the game, with a 14-0 run to take a 50-31 lead to start the third quarter.
Nurse hit one of her four three-pointers to start the run, and layups from Napheesa Collier and Gabby Williams pushed the lead to 12.
The Huskies closed the run with two threes, one from Katie Lou Samuelson that turned into a four-point play and another from Nurse on the next offensive possession. In just two and a half minutes, the game went from being a competitive dogfight to on the verge of a blowout.
“We came out in the second half, we were just a little more aggressive and we had some opportunities early and we took them right away.” Auriemma said. “We passed up a lot of opportunities in the first half to get a better opportunity so at the start of the second half we just took advantage of every opportunity we got. I think that may have been the difference in the game because that gave us the cushion we needed.”
Auriemma turned out to be right, as Maryland did what it did all night, fighting back but never getting all the way there. The Terps tied the game twice in the first half, but were never able to take the lead.
“Most teams would quit,” Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said about her team’s comeback effort. “It tells you about our team, they’re so competitive, there’s no quit in this team.”
The Terps started to chip away and cut the lead to 13 with 2:46 left in the third quarter, but Samuelson scored eight points in a row to push the lead back out to 15.
After holding the Huskies’ leading scorer to six points on 2-of-8 shooting in the first half, she had 12 points in the third quarter alone on the way to a game-high 23. It looked as if UConn would win comfortably, but Maryland had other ideas and cut the lead to five with 4:52 left.
“If you look too far ahead, you already lost,” Destiny Slocum said. “We did really well taking it possession by possession and slowly knocking away at the lead.”
In the end, a 19-point deficit was too big a hole to climb out of. UConn’s Saniya Chong again hit the dagger, a three with 48 seconds left to extend the Huskies’ lead to 84-75.
Frese knows that, and said as much after the game, but also knows what position this team is in. The Terps came into the season with seven new players, and will only get better as the season goes on. She said that games like this are important to prepare her team for March, when Maryland could run into this same UConn team.
The Terps have given the Huskies some of their biggest scares during their 87-game winning streak and almost pushed them to the brink again. If they meet in March, it could be a different result. Maybe.