Maryland coach Brenda Frese talks about the Maryland women's 74-58 win over Iona and advancing to the NCAA second round. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun video)
The opening round of the NCAA tournament had grown unexpectedly tense for the Maryland women's basketball team.
Facing a seemingly overmatched Iona team that had never played in the tournament before, the Terps had watched their lead dwindle to seven early in the fourth quarter Saturday.
Iona forward Philecia Gilmore had just banged home her seventh 3-pointer of the afternoon, and the home crowd at Xfinity Center murmured nervously.
But Maryland's senior point guard, Brene Moseley, was not about to let her career go down the drain like that. She knifed past her defender for a tough jumper in the lane. Then she did it again. The Terps' defense clamped down, and the No. 2 seed — stocked with juniors and seniors toughened by two consecutive trips to the Final Four — pulled away for a 74-58 victory.
Coach Brenda Frese never sensed the game slipping away during Iona's fourth-quarter rally.
"I think I would have called timeout if I had felt that," she said. "I have great confidence in our leadership."
With 15 points on 7-for-10 shooting, Moseley helped pace a balanced Maryland attack that featured five players in double figures. Junior guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough led Maryland with 19 points. Classmate Brionna Jones added 11 points and 11 rebounds despite playing much of the game in foul trouble.
Maryland ultimately overwhelmed Iona with its size, outrebounding the Gaels 42-25 and outscoring them 32-16 in the paint.
But the 5-foot-7 guard known as "Bones" steadied the Terps when they needed it most. The day before, Frese had spoken to Moseley about looking for her shot instead of always thinking pass first on key possessions.
"I have to continually stay on her in terms of what her offense means to us," Frese said.
"I was just going with the flow of the game," said Moseley, a finalist for the Nancy Lieberman Award as the nation's top point guard despite the fact she comes off the bench.
With the win, Maryland (31-3) earned the right to host seventh-seeded Washington on Monday at 6:40 p.m. at Xfinity Center. The Huskies beat 10th-seeded Penn on Saturday afternoon in College Park.
Frese did not know which opponent her team would face when she spoke after Saturday's game but said she expected a sharper effort regardless. She was particularly disappointed her team committed 19 turnovers and forced only 11 from Iona.
"It looked like we hadn't played a game in two weeks," she said, alluding to the long break between Maryland's victory in the Big Ten tournament and the Iona game.
"Taking care of the ball, that'll be the big thing," said senior center Malina Howard, who stepped up her offense with Jones on the bench, scoring 10 points.
Iona (23-12) earned the first NCAA bid in program history by winning the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament, but hadn't played a team of Maryland's class.
"They're a very talented team and they have a bunch of different pieces," said Iona coach Billi Godsey, a Maryland native and former UMBC assistant. "We tried to make them take tough shots, and they hit them."
Godsey predicted a long tournament run for Maryland.
She was able to smile at the unexpected breakout performance by Gilmore, who shot 7-for-15 from 3-point range despite coming in a 32.7-percent shooter from behind the arc.
Asked if she sensed her big day coming based on Friday's practice at Xfinity Center, Gilmore grinned and said, "You wouldn't believe it, but I couldn't even hit a shot."
The Gaels scored more than 80 points just once all season, while Maryland entered averaging 84, so it was no secret that the lower seed hoped to slow the pace of the game.
No such luck in the first half.
The Gaels made 3-pointers on their first two possessions but struggled to keep up with the larger Terps, who created high-percentage shots almost at will.
Maryland harassed Iona's two all-conference players, guard Marina Lizarazu and forward Joy Adams, into poor shooting performances and quickly built a crushing rebounding advantage. Only four first-half 3-pointers by Gilmore kept Iona within shouting distance.
The Gaels could not handle Moseley's quickness at the top of the key or Jones' muscle in the paint. Maryland shot 64 percent in the first half to Iona's 34.4 percent.