The Maryland women’s basketball team was forced to come back twice from double-digit deficits Sunday in its NCAA tournament Sweet 16 game against defending national champion Texas A&M at PNC Arena.
The first comeback, after being down 18 points with 6:40 left in the first half, fell a little short, when a two-handed halfcourt heave by freshman guard Brene Moseley hit the backboard and then bounced off the front rim. It left the second-seeded Terps trailing the third-seeded Aggies by three points.
The second, after cutting the deficit to a point and then falling behind by 11 with 11:17 remaining in the game, was just as scintillating — and even more successful. Maryland’s 81-74 victory was fueled by a game-closing 24-6 run that included the Terps scoring the last eight points.
The victory, the 10th straight and 13th in its last 14 games, pushed Maryland (31-4) into the Elite Eight for the first time since 2009. The Terps will face top-seeded Notre Dame for the right to go to the Final Four in Denver later this week. The Irish easily defeated No. 5 seed St. Bonaventure, 79-35, in the second semifinal.
“This one was obviously extremely special, and filled with a lot of Maryland magic,” said Terps coach Brenda Frese. “When you have to battle teams in the conference and have to come from behind like when we were down 20 to Georgia Tech, this team knows and has confidence to come back on anyone.”
It was certainly not easy.
When junior forward Tianna Hawkins, the team’s best rebounder, left the game after falling hard to the court with 9:21 remaining, Maryland still trailed by seven, 70-63. Sophomores Alyssa Thomas and Laurin Mincy had three personals at the time and Thomas seemed hesitant to drive to the basket after being called twice for offensive fouls.
But senior center Lynetta Kizer, playing for the injured Hawkins, helped get Texas A&M (24-11) 6-4 forward Kelsey Bone in foul trouble. Thomas, who struggled in her team’s second-round win over Louisville in College Park, started making shots. And Mincy, who helped the Terps get to the Sweet 16 with 24 points, kept making shots.
Shooting 7 of 8 from the field, Mincy finished with 21 points Sunday, as did Thomas. Mincy contributed a game- and career-high 12 rebounds (10 coming on the defensive boards) and three blocked shots. Kizer finished with 15 points.
“I think when we were down 18, what was playing in my head was that I didn’t want this to be my last game,” Kizer said. “That is honestly all I could keep thinking. They kept telling us to [rebound] and they kept telling us to defend. Anything that I personally needed to do to help this team to take a step forward was what I was trying to do. I wanted us to finish the game strong, together.”
The Terps did. A double-pump jump shot in the lane by Mincy had given Maryland a 74-73 lead with a little over four minutes left, but Texas A&M freshman point guard Alexia Standish (19 points) put the Aggies ahead on their next possession. Kizer then scored inside . Flustered by Maryland’s 2-3 zone, the Aggies didn’t score again.
“Maryland really picked it up defensively as the game went,” said Standish, who had bothered Maryland with her quickness and spin moves but seemed to tire at the end. “We got a lot of open looks [in the first half and early in the second hal], but they switched to some man-zone defense and were always in help so it was a lot harder to penetrate.”
Frese switched to a 2-3 zone when Hawkins got hurt, using four guards “that were giving them problems at the time.”
And, as has been their mantra all season, Maryland hit the boards. The Terps wound up with a 42-30 advantage in rebounding.
Said Bone: “You are not used to boxing out teams at every position and that is exactly what Maryland does every game.”
Veteran Aggies coach Gary Blair, who gained some YouTube fame by dance “The Dougie” after his team beat Notre Dame in last year’s NCAA title game, knew an opportunity had slipped away for a possible repeat.
“You’ve got to have a killer instinct,” Blair said. “We had them on the ropes and we didn’t knock them out.”
Blair said that aside from Connecticut and Baylor, Maryland was the best team the Aggies had faced all season.
“That whole team is solid,” he said. “They’re going to be a Final Four team this year or next year or the year after that.”
Frese is hoping for this year and believes that her team is just as capable as the one that won a national championship in 2006.
“I do feel this group has all the intangibles to be able to win it all,” Frese said. “When we say 12 strong, it’s not just a slogan. You witnessed it today. It’s a team that genuinely cares about each other, has each other’s backs and is really selfless. They don’t care who receives the attention. It’s very similar to the team we had in 2006. Characteristics, personalities, how well they get along. Obviously those are ingredients to be successful.”
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