Coach Brenda Frese discusses Maryland's 85-70 win over previously undefeated Princeton. Players Lexie Brown, Laurin Mincy and Tierney Pfirman also talk about the win. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun)
COLLEGE PARK — Laurin Mincy fought through a second major knee surgery just to continue her basketball career at Maryland, finally regaining her peak form in this, her senior season.
So understand she wasn't ready for it to end Monday night against Princeton, which came to the second round of the NCAA tournament as the only undefeated team in the country.
With emotions running fierce in her last game at Xfinity Center, Mincy played perhaps the best game of her Maryland career, scoring 27 points and making six of seven 3-pointers to lead the Terps to a decisive, 85-70, win and a berth in the Sweet 16.
"She's a big-time player," coach Brenda Frese said of top-seeded Maryland's lone senior. "When the stakes are highest, she wants the moment."
At times over the past few days, Maryland felt like the B plot in a story about undefeated Princeton and its unfairly-low NCAA tournament seeding.
When the teams actually met on the floor, however, the Terps ran away from the Tigers with an impressive second-half display of speed and offensive skill. With Princeton determined to smother Maryland's inside attack, the Terps responded by making 12 of 20 3-point attempts.
"If that's what it takes to beat us, then great," said Princeton senior Blake Dietrick, who scored 26 points in her last college game.
"We did what we wanted to do," added Princeton coach Courtney Banghart. "They just kept shooting well."
The Tigers showed why they entered the game 31-0, matching the Terps basket for basket in a high-scoring first half. But Maryland cut a remarkable pace coming out of the locker room, making six of seven shots in a 15-2 run that created a comfortable working margin.
Mincy led the charge with seven quick points. Point guard Lexie Brown added 23 points for the game, including 13 in the second half.
Mincy's brilliant performance followed a week in which she rarely dropped her favored look of piercing intensity.
"I talked about it all week," she said, cracking a smile in the postgame press conference. "I don't want to be done."
Maryland (32-2) will move on to Spokane, Wash., for a showdown Saturday with former Atlantic Coast Conference archrival Duke. The fourth-seeded Blue Devils (23-10) struggled to a two-point win over Albany in the opening round and were ranked lower than Princeton in the final Associated Press and USA Today coaches polls.
Princeton became an early favorite for best story in the tournament when the Tigers received a No. 8 seed despite entering as the nation's only undefeated team. Banghart felt her team deserved a better fate than playing the Terps on their home court in the second round, and she wasn't shy about saying so.
The Tigers created more stir when they drew President Barack Obama to Xfinity Center for their opening-round win on Saturday morning. Obama's niece, Leslie Robinson, is a reserve forward for Princeton, which is also first lady Michelle Obama's alma mater. The president picked Princeton to upset Maryland and reach the Final Four.
Before the game, someone threatened Robinson in a message received by Maryland's athletic department. Banghart confirmed the threat and said Leslie, who didn't play in the game, was safe.
The first family wasn't on hand Monday, but Princeton did have Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, both alums, in its rooting section.
Banghart said going in that Maryland would likely be stronger inside while Princeton would look to spread the Terps' defense with accurate long-range shooting.
But the dynamic was exactly the opposite in the first half, with the Tigers consistently slashing inside for layups while Maryland bombed away from the wings. Maryland center Brionna Jones, so dominant in the first round against New Mexico State, was a nonfactor, with no points and a single rebound before halftime.
Reserve forward Tierney Pfirman picked up the slack with 11 points on 5-for-5 shooting in the first half. The barrage included Pfirman's first 3-pointer of the year, a shot that caused her to wag her tongue in celebration.
It was only the second time the junior had scored in double figures since December, but she couldn't have picked a better occasion. Maryland needed every point to keep up with Princeton's hyper-efficient attack.
Both teams shot better than 50 percent as Maryland took a 42-38 lead into the locker room.
Maryland made a concerted effort to force the ball into Jones early in the second half, and she responded with 10 points and nine rebounds after the break.
"All season, we've been pretty balanced," Brown said. "If they key on our bigs, the guards step up. If they key on our guards, the bigs step up."