Maryland women’s basketball could not beat Connecticut at Xfinity Center Thursday. The No. 4 Terps suffered their first loss of the season, while No. 1 UConn moved to 12-0, with wins over the three next-best teams in the rankings.
The loss was disappointing, as losses tend to be. Maryland had a chance to become the top team in the country; instead, the Huskies only tightened their stronghold on that designation, one they’ve held for most of the decade.
However, the Terps still proved that they belong in high-profile games like Thursday’s contest, and that they can hang with any opponent, even if they fall behind. With two full months left in the regular season, those are encouraging things to know.
“The big picture is, it’s Dec. 29,” head coach Brenda Frese told reporters after the game. “We learned a lot about our team tonight.”
The Terps had to deal with plenty of adversity. UConn started the game on a 7-0 run and opened the second half with a 14-0 burst. Brionna Jones was limited to 28 minutes due to foul trouble, and held to seven shots while on the floor. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough was quiet, tossing up just 10 points on 5-of-13 shooting. The senior was 0-for-3 from three-point range; Kristen Confroy was 0-for-4. Minus Destiny Slocum, Maryland was 0-for-10 from deep.
At the same time, UConn caught some breaks. Katie Lou Samuelson almost missed the game with an illness, but instead played and dropped 23 points. Forwards Gabby Williams and Napheesa Collier battled foul trouble, but not to the extent that they couldn’t make a difference.
“When we needed a shot, we got one. When we needed a stop, we got one. When we needed a play to be made, we got one,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “It came from different spots and we needed every one of them.”
But Maryland still fought back. The Terps outscored UConn 28-19 in the fourth quarter, trimming that 19-point deficit to five on numerous occasions. After turning the ball over 10 times in the first half, the team finished with just 14.
This was the second-closest game UConn has played during its 87-game winning streak, behind only the two-point win over Florida State to open this season. Maryland played the Huskies closer than Notre Dame or Baylor did, which at the very least shows how hard the Terps fought after falling behind.
“Most teams would have quit, and that tells you a lot about our team,” Frese said. “They’re so competitive, and there’s no quit in this team.
“We just can’t spot UConn 19 points.”
Maryland is 12-1, and starts its Big Ten season Sunday at Minnesota. The Terps are heavy favorites to win the conference for the third straight season, with only No. 14 Ohio State looking like a serious threat.
If Slocum and Kaila Charles play the way they did against the Huskies, that only strengthens Maryland’s case as a national contender. The freshmen accounted for 41 of Maryland’s 81 points and combined to shoot 17-of-34 from the field.
“I think this gave us a lot of experience under our belt, with such a young team, because we’re going to have a couple of tough matchups in the Big Ten,” Jones said. “It’s a great starting point for us to work on a lot of things and learn from this.”
UConn, meanwhile, will breeze though the AAC and break its own record for consecutive wins. The Huskies are still vulnerable, though; Auriemma has said on multiple occasions that he believes this team will lose at some point, and he doubled down on that prediction after the game. It’s not out of the question that Maryland runs into this team in April, and it’s not out of the question that Maryland pulls it out.
“All we need is one of those kids to foul out early. All we need is [Samuelson] not to play because she’s sick,” Auriemma said. “We’re one thing away [from losing]. I’m sure most teams are.”
Maryland has all the tools for a deep tournament run. Because the Terps lost this game, they almost certainly won’t be the favorite when the postseason rolls around. But against UConn, they showed they aren’t far off.