Destiny Slocum stood frozen, as if she had just fumbled a dish and watched it shatter on the kitchen floor.
The Maryland women's basketball team's freshman point guard could not process what she’d done until teammates crushed her in a group hug and the bellows of an ecstatic home crowd washed over her.
The vivacious fireplug from Idaho had caught an inbounds pass with about three seconds on the clock and turned to heave the ball from just outside the 3-point line on West Virginia’s side of the court.
Slocum’s impossible overhead fling put the No. 3 seed Terps up by 14 at halftime of its second-round NCAA tournament game Sunday against the sixth-seeded Mountaineers. And Maryland's stunning loss to Washington at the same juncture of last year’s tournament suddenly felt very far away.
The Terps coasted to a 83-56 victory from there, allowing senior All-Americans Brionna Jones (Aberdeen) and Shatori-Walker Kimbrough to bow out of their final game at Xfinity Center in exultant fashion.
“On a scale of 1 to 100, today was 100,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. “It’s a beautiful way to send them out, knowing that it’s not over yet.”
Jones led Maryland (32-2) with 22 points and 11 rebounds, Walker-Kimbrough scored 19, and Slocum — seemingly the next great star in coach Brenda Frese’s assembly line — added 21 points and eight assists. Walker-Kimbrough also hounded West Virginia star Tynice Martin into a 3-for-18 shooting performance.
Slocum’s shot was, of course, the talk of the postgame news conference.
“She caught it and it was, like, one in a trillion,” dazed West Virginia forward Teana Muldrow said.
But Slocum’s elders did not seem so taken aback.
“Part of me was surprised, and part of me wasn’t,” Walker-Kimbrough said. “That’s her range.”
Slocum noted that she practiced her long-range bombs during shootarounds at the Big Ten Conference tournament. “Why not? Just throw it up,” she said, explaining her mindset. “But watching that thing was crazy.”
Jones and Walker Kimbrough played 71 career games at Xfinity Center. They won 66. Before their last regular-season home game, they became the 10th and 11th Terps women’s players to have their numbers unveiled in the rafters of the arena. No matter what happens over the next four rounds of this year’s NCAA tournament, they have left their mark on College Park.
With the victory, Maryland earned a trip to Bridgeport, Conn., for the Sweet 16 and a potential showdown with former Atlantic Coast Conference rival Duke. (The second-seeded Blue Devils must first beat Oregon on Monday). Adding spice to that potential matchup, Jones and Walker-Kimbrough’s former classmate, Lexie Brown, is now a star guard for the Blue Devils.
Past that looms a possible rematch with the mightiest dynasty in the history of the women’s game: Connecticut. The Terps lost to the visiting Huskies, 87-81, in December, one of UConn’s closest calls during its remarkable 108-game winning streak.
The setup for Sunday’s game felt uncomfortably familiar. Maryland again entered as a high seed, playing on its home court and anticipating a possible run to the Final Four. Again the Terps faced an underappreciated opponent in the midst of a late-season surge. Again that opponent focused its resources on stopping Jones, the surest two points in women’s college basketball.
Washington pulled it off 12 months ago, holding Jones to a season-worst four points on the way to a 74-65 upset.
For a while, it seemed West Virginia (24-11) would tap into the same formula. Lanay Montgomery, the Mountaineers’ muscular 6-foot-5 center, successfully shoved Jones off her favorite spots. The Terps missed 13 of 18 first-quarter shots on the way to a 16-12 deficit.
Frese urged calm. “We’re going to wear them out by who we are and what we do,” she told her team.
This time, the Terps answered with an overpowering 26-8 second quarter, led by Slocum’s wizardry and Walker-Kimbrough’s steady scoring touch.
On one memorable play, Walker-Kimbrough stumbled on defense, only to regain her balance, intercept a pass and, in the same motion, flick the ball upcourt to a dashing Slocum. Slocum scored to put Maryland ahead 33-20 before she crashed into the basket's stanchion. That merited a triumphant body bump between the senior All-American and the freshman heir apparent.
West Virginia coach Mike Carey said his team was buried more by Maryland's general excellence than by Slocum’s miraculous shot.
"What’d they shoot in the second quarter? Seventy percent?” he said. “That 3 didn’t hurt us any more than any of the other shots they hit.”
Maryland’s lead never fell below 12 in the second half.
Jones and Walker-Kimbrough didn't make much public fuss about their lingering pain from the Washington loss, which brought an abrupt, unforeseen close to the careers of four seniors on the 2015-2016 team.
But within this year’s close-knit team, they wanted younger players to understand the numbness that comes with falling short.
“They talk all the time about how they felt after the [Washington] game,” Slocum said before the game Sunday.
The loss didn’t seem as startling in retrospect, given that Washington rolled all the way to the Final Four. But that reality provided little consolation to Jones and Walker-Kimbrough, who’d gone to the Final Four as freshmen and sophomores.
They knew they would have one more chance, serving as the experienced hands on a team otherwise dominated by underclassmen.
“I wouldn’t say we think about it a lot, but it definitely left a bad taste in our mouths,” Walker-Kimbrough said.
Jones said they dedicated Sunday’s victory to the seniors from last year’s team.