Lisa Lebak hit a three. Ellen Cannon hit a three. Cannon stepped back and hit an even longer three with such a high, looping arc that meteorological patterns around our nation's capital surely had to be altered.
Suddenly, anything seemed possible.
Maryland coach Brenda Frese screamed for a timeout with 9:41 left in the first half Saturday at the Comcast Center. Quinnipiac had rushed ahead 15-8 on its way to a 21-9 lead in the first round of the NCAA Women's Tournament. Frese, who has won a national championship and seen plenty in life on and off the basketball court, didn't like seeing the punch in the mouth her team had taken.
The little school with the big winning streak had her attention. The little school that had never been to the Big Dance suddenly looked like it belonged.
"I know Quinnipiac has the No. 1 hockey team in the country, but that game today kind of felt like a hockey game with the substitution patterns, the physicality," Frese said after Maryland had recovered to win 72-52 and not only end the Bobcats' season but also end their 22-game winning streak. "Quinnipiac came out just really aggressive, confident, shooting the basketball, and we looked like we hadn't played in about two weeks."
Coach Tricia Fabbri has a name for her massive substitution pattern. In homage to the school colors, she calls it the "Gold Rush." It is closer in style to Rand Pecknold's hockey line changes than it is to the ordinary handiwork of a basketball coach. In the first half of games, she'll replace her starters en masse with a second team. In minutes (on this day she was doing it in three-minute shifts) all five starters will return. This will go on as long as game situations dictate.
When Cannon landed that rainbow three and when a Brittany McQuain layup pushed the Bobcats' lead to nine with 6:56 left in the first half, it clearly was working. Using 10 players, the Bobcats were playing fierce defense. You had to wonder. Could Quinnipiac find a rush of gold at the end of that rainbow?
The answer was no. The Bobcats shot 1-for-11 the rest of the first half and missed their first seven shots of the second half. The Terps looked startled early. Quinnipiac got into them with speed and aggression, but Alyssa Thomas took over. Tianna Hawkins took over. They would outscore Quinnipiac 34-7 over the next 14:24. Thomas, in transition, is something the Bobcats simply did not see in going unbeaten in the NEC.
Yes, Maryland lost to Duke, Florida State and North Carolina in the final five games and dropped to a No. 4 seed. Yes, they had to spend all season adjusting to the losses of guards Laurin Mincy and Brene Moseley to knee injuries. Still they are ranked 10th in the USA Today coaches' poll and 12th in the AP poll. Alicia DeVaughn is 6-4. Thomas, 6-2, is a first-team All-American. She is an immense talent.
"They elevated their game," Fabbri said. "They came back after us. They definitely had to make a change or it was going to go the other way. It was already going the other way. That's why they're a great team. They had an answer. They didn't pack it in. I would have loved to have seen them pack it in. But they amped up the pressure and have such length. They challenged us. Everything was contested. But I'm so proud of our women, what they have done for our school. They were great. They were gritty.
"Maryland's clearly a Top 10 team, at a different level we have not seen. But they found out they had to play harder to beat us. We forced them to do that. You saw how much they had to expend to win. And, man, the ball just sat on the rim for us. There was a lid on it."
Jasmine Martin shot 2-for-15. Felicia Barron finished 4-for-18 and that was after she hit three shots late. From thet point where they led 21-12, Quinnipiac shot 9-for-53. Thud.
So we found out what Maryland did — with apologies to Neil Young — after the Gold Rush. Now we will find out what Quinnipiac, which finishes 30-3, does after the Gold Rush.
"Thirty wins is a momentous number," Fabbri said. "Twenty is usually the standard. But with the number of players we have returning, our arena and what we've been able to accomplish the last two years, going forward we're going to be on a bigger stage."
Next season, Quinnipiac is going to host a preseason NIT. After beating St. John's at home this season, they'll play at St. John's. St. Joseph's, which defeated Maryland this season, will play at Quinnipiac. And No. 12 seed Marist, which fell to Michigan State here Saturday, looms as a perennial MAAC power.
"Next season's schedule is going to be a step up, and we're going to be used to having these experiences we've had against Top 20 teams," Fabbri said. "Now, we're moving into a league [MAAC] that has been the Marist Invitational for the last eight years. That alone will bring us a whole new level of exposure.
"Two undefeated teams in their conferences, it's already started on Twitter who is going to be better. They have the national eye at Marist. We're going to compete with that going forward. We've got to grow the standard of excellence."
For this day, she could sustain that standard with the knowledge that the Gold Rush hurt a top 10 team for 15 minutes.
"We did," Fabbri said. "We got to 30 wins doing it the majority of the season. Personnel, injuries change the complexion of that. But ... I can't see us really getting away from it. It gave us our best season ever. We have some good incoming kids. We have the majority of the team back."
Fabbri said that initially the players felt like the Gold Rush was choppy and it was a little hard to get into the flow.
"But then they saw the results and how hard we played defensively, how we can bang and get after people; they started to buy in. Plus, they know they're going to get to play. It's not like with teams, with kids on the end of the bench they know they're not going to play so they don't practice [their hardest] every day. All these guys have real value. That's what was so special about this year."
McQuain, a junior, was the MVP of the NEC Tournament. She was a force inside all season. With Barron and Lebak completing their careers, the Bobcats are going to have to ease in new guards to keep up the mass substitutions. Yet beyond that, it was the respect McQuain showed for Thomas, the experience she and her teammates gained and the hunger to return that was so striking on this day.
"Being on the floor with talent like that, it's humbling," McQuain said. "We did extremely well in the NEC not losing a game and then coming here against a really good ACC team opened our eyes a bit. We can do this again. I have no doubt in my mind. I know we can do this again."