No matter which direction Alabama players looked, their eyes landed on a Maryland player they couldn’t stop.
The deepest women’s basketball team in America was just too dangerous Wednesday.
No. 2 seed Maryland earned its 14th berth to the Sweet 16 in program history by putting on a start-to-finish clinic in a 100-64 win over No. 7 seed Alabama in San Antonio.
Maryland will face No. 6 seed Texas (20-9), a 71-62 winner over No. 3 seed UCLA on Wednesday night, at 9 p.m. on Sunday.
The Terps (26-2) surpassed 100 points for the seventh time this season, a program record, and captured their 15th straight win. After routing Mount St. Mary’s by 53 points in the opening round, it’s the first time Maryland has won consecutive NCAA tournament games by 30-plus points in program history, according to the Big Ten Network.
Maryland coach Brenda Frese joked that she feels spoiled, that she and her staff get disappointed when they don’t hit 100 points.
“What I love about this team is they just have continued to keep putting their head down and go to work,” Frese said. “Just really haven’t paid attention to any of that extra noise out there. This group is super competitive, and they just want to get better. … They know what’s at stake now.”
Freshman Angel Reese (St. Frances) starred in Maryland’s demolition derby with 19 points, one of five Terps to score in double figures. Sophomore Faith Masonius had a career-high 16 points, followed by Mimi Collins and Diamond Miller with 13 each and sophomore Ashley Owusu with 10.
“In an ironic way, when Angel got hurt, it allowed a lot of players to develop their plays. Now, the longer we’ve played, it’s allowed Angel to get back in the fold,” Frese said. “They’re just constantly making the right plays for one another, championship plays. They’re making the game look really easy.”
Maryland shot 61.8% from the field, while Alabama climbed to 42.6% by game’s end, landing 11 points beneath its per-game average.
Reese came up with a slogan, “all gas, no breaks,” that Maryland put on display, a mindset Frese thinks embodies the way her team has played in the NCAA tournament.
“It’s very important we come out and punch first, and step on the gas,” Masonius said.
Clearly, the Crimson Tide didn’t devise a strategy to stop the Terps fast enough in their first huddle.
Benzan burst back onto the floor with her second 3, followed by Masonius, who rocketed off the bench to land a basket on her first try.
All the while, not one Alabama player could make a shot. A choking, collective Terps defense saw to that. While limiting the Crimson Tide to 27% shooting, Maryland embarked on three unchallenged scoring runs within the quarter, imprisoning Alabama in droughts spanning several minutes. The Terps shot 71% in the quarter, 67% from 3-point range and 100% from the free-throw line.
Masonius said her team really took pride in its defensive prowess after its second game against Michigan on March 4. The sophomore credited Chloe Bibby (four steals) for commanding that effort, jumping on the attack the minute the game started.
By the time Alabama junior Allie Craig Cruce managed to hit a 3-pointer, the Crimson Tide found themselves drowning under the gold-clad Maryland wave. Reese and Masonius capped a 10-0 run to lead Alabama 30-9 at the end of the quarter.
It didn’t matter that Alabama players like Jasmine Walker, who led the offense with 23 points, tried to chip away with the occasional bucket. It didn’t help that Alabama turned the ball over 11 times in the first half, and Maryland capitalized with 18 points.
It also didn’t matter that sophomore phenom Owusu didn’t post a single point until under two minutes before halftime. Frese’s “floor general” knows when she needs to turn it on — such as when she saved the day against Nebraska in the Big Ten tournament — and when she doesn’t.
With Masonius, Collins and Reese into double figures by the half, Owusu didn’t need to do more than assist her capable teammates.
Meanwhile, the Terps defense shut down Alabama redshirt senior guard Jordan Lewis, who had 32 points against North Carolina in the first round. Lewis did not land a single shot until she hit a free throw toward the end of the second quarter, and not a single field goal until the second half.
Lewis finished with just eight points, shooting 2-for-9 from the floor and 1-for-4 from 3-point-range.
“We were obviously concerned with the game Lewis had, so I thought we locked in really well with making her have to take difficult shots,” Frese said. “Walker showed the pro she is and continued to make plays for 40 minutes. … But our defense stepped up at another level.”
Alabama didn’t remain submissive forever.
The Crimson Tide rolled into the third quarter on an 11-4 run, charged by Walker, who netted five points, and Lewis and Hannah Barber, who each had three.
Frese pulled her Terps into a timeout. When they broke the huddle, they emerged like nothing happened.
Bibby put a definitive end to that. Owusu sank two jumpers — one while laying on the floor after tricking her defender — and dished her seventh assist to Bibby for a 3 to ship Maryland on a 13-3 run.
Before long, Maryland was back up by 30. The Terps didn’t look back.
“Having that lead, it’s a sense of security,” Masonius said. “We [knew] we were going to move on.”