BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Even in warmups, it was easy to see the different approach between Maryland and Oregon on Saturday.
The Ducks looked nice and loose, just happy to be there and dancing to warmup songs. The Terps, meanwhile, looked like they were on a business trip, taking this game as a stepping stone to an almost-certain rematch with UConn in the Elite Eight.
It stayed that way for most of the game. Oregon looked relaxed and confident, while Maryland looked tight and was never able to establish a rhythm on either end of the floor.
“Oregon’s for real,” head coach Brenda Frese said after the game. “I thought they were sensational tonight. I thought they punched first and were fearless, aggressive, and really punished us for any mistake or breakdowns that we had.”
On offense, Maryland started in a slump and never really got going. It shot over 50 percent in the second half, but the shots didn’t fall consistently enough to put pressure on Oregon. By the final buzzer, the Terps had scored a season low 63 points.
“I think at times we were maybe overthinking it,” senior guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough said. “It took us a little bit to get into our rhythm and they took advantage.”
Maryland had a mismatch inside, but couldn’t turn it into enough points. Brionna Jones ended up with 16 points and 15 rebounds for her 25th double-double of the season, but she struggled to impose her will on the Ducks. Whenever she got by one player, either 6’4 Ruthy Hebard or 6’5 Mallory McGwire awaited her. Both got in foul trouble, but Jones was never able to get to the foul line.
“Their length and physicality gave her some problems,” Frese said. “In the other positions, we didn’t dive and cut and move as much to help her offset that and play through the double teams.”
For Oregon head coach Kelly Graves, the Ducks defense wasn’t always like that early in the season. He told one reporter that if he was any good, he would’ve looked like an All-American the way his team played defense at the beginning of the season.
“We couldn’t guard anybody,” Graves said. “We’ve gotten better and better and better and that’s where our team has showed the most growth. Your defense is what’s tested in the tournament and we’ve passed it three times.”
Their defense contained Maryland in transition as well, which is where the Terps have pulled away from their opponents numerous time this season. On Saturday, Maryland had just eight fast-break points.
“We kept moving the basketball and making them defend,” Graves said. “I think we played about as good of a game as we could play. To beat them, you have to lessen the number of possessions.”
Oregon also executed well offensively, and was able to find open looks on penetration as the game went on. It really started to open up in the third quarter when Lexi Bando hit back-to-back threes to push the Ducks’ lead to 53-41, their largest lead of the game up to that point.
You could see glimpses of a slowed-down Maryland in the way Oregon was playing. Sabrina Ionescu was Destiny Slocum, driving through the lane and finding her teammates, but also drawing out the defense by draining threes. Ruthy Hebard looked like Jones, using her size on the glass and giving teams extra possessions. Lexi Bando and Maite Cazorla both could be compared to Kristen Confroy and Kaila Charles, respectively, as their contributions sometimes go unnoticed.
Although the Ducks were a No. 10 seed, this didn’t feel like an upset. At this point in the NCAA Tournament, not many games do. The teams that make it to the second weekend didn’t get there by luck, and every team (even UConn) still has to play well to win.
Oregon played well and deserved to move on, while Maryland came out flat and was never able to find a groove. It isn’t because the Terps were looking ahead to the Huskies or that Oregon was more motivated. The better team won, and that’s why the Terps were sent home early again.