This wasn’t supposed to be the end.
The Maryland women’s basketball team was 31-3 and playing the second round of the Women’s NCAA Tournament at home. When I showed up at Xfinity Center before Monday’s game, I was thinking about how I was going to get to Lexington this weekend. This game, against a team that only went six deep, wasn’t supposed to be anything more than another warmup for the likes of Kentucky and Notre Dame.
But then a weird thing happened. Washington won the game.
Sure, I knew they had Kelsey Plum, the nation’s third-leading scorer, and a pair of solid forwards in Talia Walton and Chantel Osahor. But I expected the Terps to come out on top and make another Sweet 16.
And yet, Washington kept hanging around. The Huskies led for a good deal of the first half, then outscored the Terps 20-8 in the third quarter, during which Maryland went on a four-minute scoreless drought. The Huskies gained the lead early in the frame and would never give it back.
I try to get my game recaps up as soon as possible after the game, and sometimes that means cheating with the final result. I’ve typed out "Maryland women’s basketball defeated………" in the second quarter on multiple occasions, even in conference play. But even when Washington had an 11-point lead with under five minutes left, I couldn’t bring myself to admit it. There was no way Maryland could actually lose this game, right?
Shatori Walker-Kimbrough drained a pair of cold-blooded triples to slash the deficit to 60-55 with three minutes left, and I wrote them down as if they were the start of a comeback. I was ready for another basket to cut it to three. Then one. Then the lead. Because why not?
But when Walton drained a corner three off a dish from Plum, I knew this was it. I spent the last minute or so of game time (which took a nice, long time thanks to all the Washington free throws) writing more big-picture things for what was suddenly my last recap of the year. I frantically finished up an opus of over 640 words in the minutes surrounding the final buzzer, took care of the little things (tweets, promo headlines, etc.) and sent it out. Eight minutes had passed since the Terps’ season crashed down in flames.
Normally, I’m relaxed by the time I get to the media room for postgame press conferences. My story is done and doesn’t need quotes, so the questions I ask are legitimate curiosities. But I’ve been to funerals with less somber moods than that Maryland presser. The players were fighting back tears as they answered the barrage of questions, which were predominantly sentimental rather than technical. Brenda Frese said she was proud of her team this year, but you could sense how much it pained her to say those words in mid-March instead of early April.
The Huskies, on the other hand, were lively and funny during their press conference. Head Coach Mike Neighbors expressed his gratitude to the Maryland state police for escorting his team back and forth between Bethesda and College Park. Osahor was laughing off her second-quarter collision with Walker-Kimbrough, and Plum was talking about how happy she was about choosing Washington (she could have de-committed when Kevin McGuff left for Ohio State, but stuck with Neighbors, who had recruited her and was named head coach in 2013). The three stars gleefully took their nameplates with them when they were dismissed. It’s a fun group, and I’ll definitely be rooting for them this weekend.
But man, it stings that Maryland won’t be there. I’ve spent enough time around Coach Frese and the core players to know they all despise losing. And a loss like this, which prematurely ends their tournament run, is way worse. I feel for them, and for their families, and for the fans.
There’s always next year, but nobody is thinking about that right now. They’re thinking of the seniors who poured everything they had into the program for four years (five in Brene Moseley’s case). They’re thinking of how this team didn’t reach its ultimate goal. But as time passes, they’ll also think of the 31 wins and the two Big Ten trophies and the unforgettable memories.
The Terps’ season screeched to a halt on Monday, but it sure was a fun ride.