Maryland women's basketball suffered its first loss of the season on Monday night, falling to the No. 1 Connecticut Huskies by a score of 83-73 in the Maggie Dixon classic at Madison Square Garden.
Neither team looked very crisp early on. UConn and No. 6 Maryland had 9 and 5 first-quarter turnovers, respectively. The Terps were forced to play most of the period without Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who normally shines early in games but picked up two quick offensive fouls. Brionna Jones stepped up with 8 points and 3 steals, but UConn took a 21-14 lead into the second.
Maryland started the second quarter on a 7-0 run to tie the game, and took its first lead of the night on a Malina Howard putback with 3:39 left in the half. Walker-Kimbrough returned to record 9 points in the quarter. However, the Huskies closed with a 7-0 run of their own and jogged back to the locker room with a 36-32 lead. Maryland was held scoreless for the last 2:49 of the first half.
That skid would continue early in the third quarter as the Husky lead stretched to 8 points, but after Jones ended it with a layup, Kristen Confroy hit back-to-back threes to even the score at 40. Maryland reclaimed a 43-41 lead at the media timeout, and then UConn got hot again. The three-time defending national champs immediately scored 10 unanswered points. When the quarter ended, the Husky lead was 56-47 after a Moriah Jefferson reverse layup just before the buzzer.
UConn quickly upped the advantage to double digits, but Maryland hung tough. The Terps trailed by 8 with about 6 minutes to play when Brionna Jones was fouled on a made layup. Her subsequent free throw miss was engulfed by Walker-Kimbrough, who then missed two foul shots of her own. For the next several minutes, Maryland couldn't get closer than 5. A Tierney Pfirman 3-pointer brought the score to 75-71 entering the final minute, but backup guard Saniya Chong nailed a three on UConn's ensuing possession that would serve as the dagger. A few foul-filled seconds, and the Huskies capped off the 10-point victory.
As was the case in April, Breanna Stewart led the way for UConn. The nation's best stat-stuffer notched 23 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds. Moriah Jefferson and Morgan Tuck added 17 points apiece. Brionna Jones was the Terps' leading scorer and rebounder with 24 and 7.
Perhaps the two most glaring disparities between the two teams were turnovers and free throws. Maryland had 22 giveaways compared to UConn's 14 (only 1 in the second half). At the line, the Huskies were 17-22; the Terps, normally a great foul-shooting team, were only 3-8.
It was still a hard-fought game for the Terps, who will take an 11-1 record into conference play, which starts Thursday on New Year's Eve at Illinois. Now the Terps will shift their focus towards defending last year's Big Ten championship.
Three things to know
1. This was a much closer game than many expected. UConn beat the Terps by 23 points in the Final Four last season, and most of that team's core is back. But Maryland hung tough throughout; the Terps outrebounded UConn 36-35, and the teams were roughly even in most major stats, save for free throws and turnovers.
2. UConn had a considerable home-court advantage. The MSG crowd was about 75-25 in favor of the Huskies. Perhaps their most loud and obnoxious fans were sitting 10 feet to the left of press row, so that was fun.
3. Kiah Gillespie didn't quite have the game she wanted. The Connecticut native didn't receive an offer from Supreme Leader Geno Auriemma, ending up in College Park instead. She recorded 3 points on 1-of-6 shooting in front of roughly 75 friends and family members.