The 2017-18 incarnation of Maryland women’s basketball doesn’t have the same firepower as recent teams in College Park. Despite sitting 15th in the AP Poll, the Terps knew they would be underdogs at home against defending national champion South Carolina on Monday.
They made up for it by never giving in.
South Carolina was dominant for most of the evening, leading by 20 with 6:29 remaining. But a furious charge slashed that margin as low as three points with 38 seconds left.
“I loved the fight of our team,” head coach Brenda Frese said after the game. “I thought our chemistry really came together late in the third quarter and I thought you saw a true picture of our team in the fourth quarter.”
After losing six players to either graduation or transfer in the offseason, Frese’s team brought just 10 players into the season. Until Eleanna Christinaki becomes eligible in December, that number is nine. On Monday, it was eight. Three players had fouled out by the last minute, including Maryland’s only two conventional post players in Brianna Fraser and Stephanie Jones.
For the first time in a while, Maryland is also undersized. The Terps don’t have a player taller than 6’3, and only three of Monday’s eight rotation players were above 6’0. That won’t be an issue against most teams on the schedule, but it was against the Gamecocks.
The Terps had no answers for South Carolina’s A’ja Wilson, although it’d be unfair to expect them to. Wilson is a matchup nightmare for everyone in the country, standing 6’5 and dominating from pretty much anywhere inside 18 feet. She was either too big or too nimble for every Maryland defender, and when the Terps tried double-teaming her, South Carolina usually found someone else open from deep.
And yet, here was Maryland, viciously clawing its way toward a tie in the final minutes.
“When we were in the locker room, we were talking like, ‘This is our house, and we need to leave everything out on the floor,’” sophomore Kaila Charles said.
They did that, prompting roar after roar from the 8,677 in attendance.
It helped that Charles had the breakout of breakouts, notching 19 points in the final frame to finish with 31. Her previous career high was 19. Charles went 14-of-15 at the foul line and led Maryland with 10 rebounds.
Maryland needed all of this, and the Terps also needed late contributions from freshman point guard Channise Lewis, who was almost a non-factor in the middle quarters. They needed a drastic improvement on the glass, grabbing 11 more rebounds than South Carolina in the fourth after a minus-16 margin in the first three. They needed to sink 12 of 13 free throws just to stay in it.
All these things still weren’t enough to pull out a win, but to give such a scare to one of the nation’s elite teams is always encouraging.
“When you look at how tough our schedule is in this non-conference, it should give us great confidence,” Frese said. “Now we’ve just got to build upon it to make it a 40-minute game.”