The fourth-seeded Maryland women's basketball team began the NCAA tournament with a 72-52 victory over No. 13 seed Quinnipiac on Saturday on the strength of a decisive run bridging the halves and another All-American caliber performance from Alyssa Thomas.
The junior forward scored a game-high 29 points and added 13 rebounds and five assists to lead an overpowering frontcourt for the Terrapins, who for the first time this season had four players reach double-figures in rebounds. Senior forward Tianna Hawkins contributed 23 points and 13 rebounds, and junior center Alicia DeVaughn had eight points and a career-high 17 rebounds in Maryland's first game since March 9.
"I thought we looked like we hadn't played in about two weeks," said coach Brenda Frese, who has never lost in the first round in nine appearances in the NCAA tournament at Maryland. "Rusty, a little bit sluggish from the tip, but once we were able, I thought, to get our rebounding and our transition to really start clicking, that was the difference."
Maryland used a 21-2 run, culminating in two Hawkins foul shots with 13:30 left in regulation for a 41-26 lead, to take control of the game and advance to Monday night's second round in the Bridgeport (Conn.) Region to play fifth-seeded Michigan State. The Terrapins twice trailed by nine in the first half before gaining separation from Quinnipiac, the Northeast Conference tournament champions who were making their first NCAA tournament appearance.
Thomas and DeVaughn hit layups that drew the Terrapins (25-7) within 21-16 with 5:49 left until halftime. Hawkins grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on the putback, and the ACC's leading scorer during the regular season hit a 3-pointer 36 seconds later to tie the game.
Jasmine Martin's layup briefly reclaimed the lead for Quinnipiac (30-3), but Thomas scored on a layup and made a jumper before assisting on Katie Rutan's basket to end the first half. The Terrapins scored six straight points to start the second half, and after Lisa Lebak sank a 3-pointer for the Bobcats, Thomas and Hawkins each made 4 of 4 from the foul line.
"Just in general, I don't think they've seen a team like us," said Thomas, the reigning two-time ACC Player of the Year. "Just a team that really rebounds and is able to run. They found it really hard to match up with all of us."
Maryland limited Quinnipiac to 23 percent shooting, including 8 of 42 in the second half, and owned a 59-41 margin in rebounding and 46-14 in points in the paint. After making four early 3-pointers, the Bobcats missed 17 of 21 from beyond the arc the rest of the way and had only Felicia Barron score in double-figures. The senior guard needed 18 shots to finish with 13 points and missed her first 12 field-goal attempts.
The Terrapins were able to overcome 25 turnovers, their second-highest total this season, and missing 11 of 13 from 3-point range thanks in part to a second half that included 46 percent shooting and a renewed commitment to rebounding. Maryland had 18 more rebounds following the break, although the teams finished tied in offensive rebounding for the game.
"Being on the floor with talent like that, it's really humbling," Quinnipiac junior forward Brittany McQuain said. "We did extremely well in the NEC, not losing a game. Coming here and playing against a really good ACC team really kind of opened our eyes a little bit."
Maryland's next opponent, meanwhile, survived against No. 12 seed Marist, 55-47, by withstanding a second-half comeback. The Spartans got a game-high 16 points from sophomore guard Kiana Johnson, who made 4 of 7 3-pointers, and junior forward Annalise Pickrel added 14 points, making 4 of 8 from beyond the arc, and five rebounds.
Casey Dulin scored a team-high 13 points for the Red Foxes, who erased a nine-point deficit at halftime to lead, 33-31, with 13:46 to play. But Michigan State, which lost to Louisville in the first round last season in College Park, went on an 18-9 run to reclaim the lead for good.