The Texas women’s basketball team erupted in cheers, mobbing each other at center court as the final buzzer sounded.
Meanwhile, Maryland was nowhere to be seen. Completely stunned, the Terrapins quietly gathered their items from the bench and headed into the locker room together, vanishing in an instant just as their hopes for a national championship had in a matter of minutes.
With less than a minute to go and the game tied up at 59 points, Texas’ Kyra Lambert stole the ball away from the Terps at the top of the arc, drilled it down the right side of the court and sunk a fast break one-handed layup to put Maryland down two points with 45 seconds left.
On the other side of the court, the nation’s top scoring offense had gone cold, hitting just one of its last 10 field goals. Shortly after, with 17 seconds to go, senior guard Katie Benzan had the ball at the top of the arc with a chance to tie the game, but she uncharacteristically couldn’t convert.
Maryland tried to stir up some late magic down the stretch the rest of the way, but instead its season was ended earlier than expected. The No. 2 seed Terps were stunned by No. 6 seed Texas, falling 64-61 in the Sweet 16 Sunday night.
“I think you saw some inexperience today with our team,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “I mean the credit goes to Texas. I thought they were physical, they were aggressive, they turned it into a game of defense and rebounding, and I thought they ultimately made one or two more plays in the fourth quarter that were the difference.”
The 61 points were a season low for Frese’s squad, with its offense stifled by the Longhorns throughout the contest. Maryland shot just 40% from the field and made just five of its 22 three-point attempts in the devastating loss.
But things had started off the way Maryland wanted as it kicked things off quickly as senior guard Katie Benzan hit her first basket of the game from behind the arc just about 10 seconds in. Benzan’s three sparked a 9-0 run for the Terps, forcing Texas to call a timeout with seven minutes to go in the first quarter.
In all three of their NCAA Tournament matchups, the Terps struck first and got their offense rolling early.
Out of the timeout, junior forward Charli Collier scored Texas’ first points of the night. But Maryland continued to fire at the basket, hitting five of their last seven field goals with four and a half minutes to go in the first frame.
However, Texas’ defense continued to push and went on a 10-0 run of it own, forcing three Maryland turnovers in just two and a half minutes. Coming into this matchup, Texas forced its opponents into 19 turnovers per game. The Longhorns continued to carry out that trend Sunday night, forcing four Maryland turnovers in the first half leading to five points of their own.
“I thought Texas defensively just made a few more plays, and this is the experience you’re trying to gain,” Frese said. “I mean for a lot of our players, this was the first time on this kind of stage, you know, not having the NCAA tournament last year. So, unfortunately, hurts tonight, but all things that we can gain as we move forward.”
Before Texas could tie up the game though, Maryland closed out the quarter by holding its opponent scoreless for over two minutes and netting five unanswered points of its own to hold onto the 18-12 lead heading into the second quarter.
After going on a 7-0 scoring run, carrying over from the first frame, with about seven minutes to go in the half, Texas’ defense held Maryland scoreless for about two minutes. until the Longhorn’s fouled the Terps for the fourth time and sophomore guard Diamond Miller hit her pair of free throws from the charity stripe.
However, Texas continued to slow the game down for the Terps bringing the pressure when Maryland was on offense and stalling on when they had the ball allowing them to stay within striking distance at the half with Maryland up 32-25.
“[Texas was] very aggressive and we had a hard time getting open on the wings, we had a hard time getting downhill,” Frese said. “We weren’t able to, you know, normally you see our offense flow from side to side, you didn’t see a lot of that. And that was a credit to the defense that they presented against us.”
The Terps were thrown off by Texas slowing the pace, looking unlike they had for much of this season. Maryland’s 32 points in the first half are the second-fewest points this No. 1 scoring offense has had in the first half all season. In its first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament against Mount St. Mary’s and Alabama, Maryland averaged 53.5 points in the first half.
This Maryland team prides itself on playing unselfish, entering the matchup ranking fifth in the country in assists per game, and that held true in this Sweet 16 matchup. In the first half, the Terps had seven assists on 13 field goals. Benzan led the way with four assists.The Terps ended the game with 16 assists on 24 field goals.
To start the second half, the Longhorns closed the Terps lead to just three points. After Owusu hit two shots from the charity stripe, the teams exchanged buckets and then Miller sank an electric and-one.
But Texas’ offense was hot as Maryland’s was cooling down. While the Terps missed four consecutive field goals, the Longhorn hit five of their last six.
Through their first two blowout victories of the tournament, the Terps had shot 57% from the field and 40% from deep. But they were stifled by the Texas defense throughout Sunday night’s matchup, shooting 40% from the field and 23% from deep.
With five minutes to go in the third quarter, junior guard Joanne Allen Taylor hit her third shot from deep of the day, and just like that the Longhorns were within one point of tying the game. Shortly after, freshman forward Angel Reese fouled Collier, who sank both her shots from the charity stripe to give the Longhorns their first lead of the day.
Texas was in the midst of a 14-6 run across the last seven minutes of the third quarter to take a 49-47 advantage headed into the final 10 minutes of play. The last time the Terps were down going into the fourth quarter was on Jan. 25 against Ohio State, one of the team’s two losses on the season.
Redshirt sophomore forward Mimi Collins’ first points of the day came at a crucial time with nine minutes to go in the fourth quarter tie the game. With a little less than seven minutes to go in the fourth quarter, the game remained tied, locked at 52 points. As Texas looked to make a play outside the arc, Bibby swooped in to steal the pass.
Bibby dribbled it down the court guarded by a Longhorn defender with sophomore guard Ashley Owusu running next to her. When they got to the top of the arc, Bibby bounced it to Owusu past the defender, and as soon as the sophomore guard touched the ball, she got it back off to Bibby, who sank the layup and give the Terps the lead. They got the foul call and then scored another bucket.
“That’s the Maryland style of basketball that we've talked about all season. It’s that unselfish play,” Bibby said. “And I mean, as I said, it didn’t go our way tonight but I’m super proud of these girls and that’s just something that we can continue to build on.
With five minutes to go in this matchup, the Terps had the four-point lead as the Longhorns were scoreless for over two and a half minutes. But with three minutes to go, Maryland was experiencing its own scoring drought as Texas stole the lead.
As Allen-Taylor went up for the layup in the crowded paint, the ball bounced off the rim but Collier was there to grab the rebound with Maryland defenders all over her. As soon as she touched the ball, Collier put it back up for two points and more after Bibby committed the foul.
Maryland had not hit a field goal in over four minutes, but Miller went 1-for-1 from the free-throw line to tie the game at 57 with less than two minutes to go. Shortly after, Bibby gave the team a 59-57 lead.
But the Terps missed their next four shots, unable to come up clutch when it mattered most, resulting in the stunning loss.
“I think our chemistry on and off the court is so great and so we’re hurting for one another right now,” Bibby said. “As much as it hurts individually, I’m hurting for all my sisters back in that locker room so this is tough but we’re gonna bounce back from this and we’re gonna use this as motivation.”
Three Things To Know
1. It was a battle on the glass. Texas averages 37.7 rebounds per game while the Terps grab an average of about 41.3. In the first half, Maryland outrebounded the Longhorns 20-16 while both teams grabbed four offense boards apiece. Miller led the way on the glass for the Terps in the first 20 minutes of the game with six boards. To finish the game Texas outrebounded Maryland, 37-36.
2. Diamond Miller had a great performance. Miller finished this matchup with 21 points shooting 7-for-15 from the field, 1-for-4 from deep and 6-for-7 from the charity stripe. The sophomore guard also grabbed eight boards, seven on the defensive end, and had two assists and two blocks.
3. The Terps’ season ends at the Sweet 16. Under Frese, the Terps’ season has ended at the Sweet 16 two times before this, in 2013 and 2017. Despite having the No. 1 scoring offense in the country, Texas slowed Maryland’s game down and held the Terps to a season-low 61 points to advance to the Elite Eight.
“Tonight we weren’t the better team for 40 minutes that doesn’t diminish anything that this team did all season long,” Frese said. “They were a joy to coach...to be in a pandemic, I mean there’s not another team that I would rather be able to coach throughout.”