Maryland women’s basketball spent 363 days with last year’s second-round loss to Washington in the NCAA Tournament in the back of everyone’s mind. With an 83-56 win over West Virginia in the same round on Sunday, that chapter has finally closed.
The No. 3-seed Terps looked to be in trouble early, trailing 16-10 late in the first quarter. But they turned things around in a flash, outscoring West Virginia 26-8 in the second quarter. Their lead remained in double digits from there, and they cruised into the Sweet 16.
“On a scale of 1 to 100,” head coach Brenda Frese said after the game, “today was 100.”
Losing to Washington last year left four seniors in tears, their careers over on a low note. In the final home game for guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and center Brionna Jones, there was no such disappointment.
“It definitely left a bad taste in our mouth last year,” Walker-Kimbrough said. “That was one of our goals, was to take it one game at a time, and with this game ahead of us, we wanted to make it out of College Park.”
The seniors combined for 41 of Maryland’s 83 points, with Destiny Slocum and Kristen Confroy adding 32 more. Maryland shot 52 percent from the floor and drained 8 of 14 three-pointers. On the other end, Walker-Kimbrough and others shut down West Virginia’s Tynice Martin, who went 3-for-18 from the field for 10 points, including 0-for-11 after the first quarter.
“We’re definitely gonna let this win soak in, because last year we didn’t make it this far,” Jones said.
Maryland’s next game will be Saturday in Bridgeport against either No. 2 seed Duke or No. 10 seed Oregon. Blue Devils point guard Lexie Brown made two Final Fours with the Terps in 2014 and 2015 before transferring to Durham, and she’ll be a major focus in Maryland’s preparation if that matchup takes place.
“I think everyone takes a breath in terms of what it takes to prepare for these games,” Frese said, “but from our staff’s end, we turn it around really quick to get ready for the next game.”
Should they win that, then a rematch with UConn looms large. The Huskies, of course, haven’t lost in nearly three seasons, and they’re 3-0 against Maryland in that span. The Terps gave them a run in College Park in December; in order to do so again, they’ll need another defensive effort like Sunday, when they forced 18 turnovers and held West Virginia under 32 percent from the floor.
“I think right now, the pieces are kind of falling together on defense,” Slocum said. “Our communication is on key, everything’s on key, and everything’s working pinpoint on all cylinders.”
After combining for four steals and five blocks in addition to their offensive contributions, Jones and Walker-Kimbrough checked out for the last time at Xfinity Center with 2:03 remaining. The home crowd of over 6,000 was entirely on its feet to congratulate them. Their careers aren’t over yet, but Sunday’s send-off was special nonetheless.
“This [game] was not given to them,” Frese said. “They had to go fight, claw and scratch, and that’s what they’ve had to do in their career. It’s only fitting, in terms of this type of game, how it unfolded.
“It’s a fitting way for us to send them out of College Park, going to Bridgeport.”