No. 5 Maryland women outmuscle No. 18 Rutgers, 80-69, in second half
By Mark Giannotto
The Washington Post|
Feb 11, 2015 at 2:34 AM
COLLEGE PARK — When all else had failed Tuesday night, the Rutgers women's basketball team turned to brute force. There were daring drives toward the basket, swinging elbows after every rebound and even a postwhistle shove or two, all in hopes of bullying its way to an unlikely road win.
That Maryland responded in kind might be the best sign yet this group could be poised for much more when the postseason arrives next month.
The fifth-ranked Terps continued their undefeated run through conference play, pulling away from No. 18 Rutgers for an 80-69 victory at Xfinity Center with a balanced and bruising approach, befitting a program that has spent this winter establishing itself as the class of the Big Ten.
The decisive surge came midway through the second half, when Rutgers cut Maryland's lead to four at three different junctures. The momentum had shifted, and the physical tone set by the Scarlet Knights seemed to have the Terps (22-2, 13-0 Big Ten) on their heels — which is pretty much how senior Laurin Mincy shot the ball upon collecting an offensive rebound on Maryland's next possession.
Her three-point play, on a one-footed putback in which she yanked the ball from a Rutgers defender, eased some of the tension in the building, and the rest of her teammates followed her lead.
Sophomore Lexie Brown cut backdoor for a layup the next time down the floor, redshirt freshman A'Lexus Harrison (Digital Harbor) hit a baseline jumper and suddenly the Terps led by nine again.
When Rutgers (18-6, 9-4) cut its deficit to 52-48 a few minutes later, Brown made a 3-points shot and spurred another 11-2 run. Every other Terps basket during the surge came in the paint, with sophomore center Brionna Jones (Aberdeen) scoring all of her eight points over a three-minute sequence.
Fellow center Malina Howard chipped in 11 of her 15 points after halftime on a night when Maryland's collective will provided a fourth win in nine days.
"When we're playing like that, when everybody is contributing, that's when we have the most fun," said Brown, who had a team-high 19 points, including two more 3-pointers down the stretch to finish off the Scarlet Knights.
Maryland has just five more conference games remaining, and four come against teams sitting in the bottom half of the Big Ten standings.
The Terps fell behind by five early Tuesday, but they methodically grabbed control behind a first-half burst that proved emblematic of why this team has compiled an undefeated record in Big Ten play this season.
Led by sophomore Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who had 15 of her 17 points before halftime, Maryland began forcing turnovers, pushed the tempo and got a boost from Harrison during a 19-2 run that spanned six minutes and featured a desperation 3-pointer by Mincy from halfway between the 3-point arc and the midcourt line as the shot clock expired.
Harrison, filling in with Jones on the bench after picking up two quick fouls, finished with seven points and set career highs for rebounds (12) and minutes (27).
Maryland coach Brenda Frese called Harrison's expanded role, particularly in the first half, "the difference in the game and something they weren't expecting."
Said Harrison: "At the times I felt tired, it was no longer about me. It was all about the team, so I had to push through. I may not be the biggest. I may not be the strongest. But I'm definitely going to bring the energy every day."
Rutgers nonetheless mounted a response, turning to its hard-nosed approach to slow the pace and claw back into the game led by forwards Betnijah Laney (22 points) and Kahleah Copper (19 points).
But Maryland kept answering back, and just like this entire unblemished run through a new league, there was no telling who it might come from.
"What people, I think, didn't understand was just the chemistry of this team, the heart," Frese said. "They play for each other, and you're seeing it unfold. When we play like this, great things are going to continue to happen for this team."