It was another Maryland women’s basketball season filled with winning. The Terps amassed 29 victories. They won the Big Ten regular-season championship and reached the conference title game. They piled up postseason honors.
But now it’s another Maryland women’s basketball season ending just a bit too early. The No. 3-seed Terps fell to No. 6-seed UCLA, 85-80, on Monday night in College Park. It’s Maryland’s third time in four years bowing out in the NCAA Tournament’s first weekend, and it’s also the third time in four years that the Terps have been eliminated by a lower-seeded team from the Pac-12.
With a win, the Terps would have earned a matchup with UConn in the Sweet 16, easily their most high-profile game of the season. Instead, the year is over before that chance ever came.
“We learned a lot,” junior wing Kaila Charles said after the game. “We learned that we can’t come out slow, especially not in the tournament in March. Teams are gonna be playing their best basketball because they don’t want to end their season.”
It was a thrilling back-and-forth game, but Maryland struggled in too many areas to pick up a win. The Terps couldn’t get a three to fall, going 1-of-13 with their only made triple coming in the first quarter. They went just 15-of-25 from the foul line, splitting seemingly every pair of free throws down the stretch. But the most emphatic weakness was on the glass. UCLA, which averages 17 offensive rebounds per game, pulled down a whopping 27. The Bruins only shot 36.3 percent as a team, but Maryland gave them one extra possession after another, and they ultimately capitalized to the tune of 27 second-chance points.
“It just comes down to who wanted it more, and I think that it showed,” sophomore forward Stephanie Jones said.
In truth, it was an imperfect team all year. Maryland had some dominant wins, but struggled to consistently put 40 good minutes together. The Terps would start slow in some games and finish poorly in others. After tallying 71 points in the first three quarters Monday, they mustered just nine in the last period of the season.
“Player for player, I think you saw that there was a little more size, length and athleticism position-wise for UCLA over us [in the fourth quarter],” head coach Brenda Frese said. “They were able to take advantage of that.”
It’s the end of the road at Maryland for forward Brianna Fraser, who was a constant presence in the low post throughout her four seasons. But the other nine players on the Terps’ roster are returning, and four blue-chip recruits are coming in. Maryland’s 2019 class is headlined by Ashley Owusu, the No. 5 player and No. 1 point guard in the country, and features three five-star wings. Not only will the new additions give Frese a full 13 players for the first time in three years, they’ll also collectively fill many of the holes this year’s team had.
There’s a wave of sadness that washes over any team after a season-ending loss. But the Terps seem to be holding their heads high. They know what the possibilities are for next year, and they’re already eager to work toward some incredibly lofty goals.
“There’s a lot of lessons learned, but I’m so proud of my teammates. We fought hard,” Charles said. “And we have nine of us coming back next year, so we’re gonna use this as motivation in the postseason to get better.”