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Texas stuns No. 2 seed Maryland, 64-61, in Sweet 16 of NCAA women’s basketball tournament

Just as Maryland’s dreams of glory inched achingly closer, Texas gave the No. 2 seed Terps a feeling they nearly forgot: defeat.

The Terps battled harder than they’ve needed to for a long while but bowed to No. 6 seed Texas, 64-61, in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament in San Antonio on Sunday night. The Longhorns ended Maryland’s 15-game winning streak and spoiled one of the most impressive seasons in program history.

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All season long, Maryland coach Brenda Frese exuded love and pride for this team — for the fight they’ve shown to battle through a pandemic, for the confidence with which they laid waste to the Big Ten, for cruising through two rounds of the NCAA tournament.

“I think this one hurts even more,” Frese said.

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The Longhorns defense came as advertised: Texas corralled Maryland (26-3), the nation’s leading offense, to nearly 31 points below its season average of 91.8, and its lowest output all season.

Top WNBA draft prospect Charli Collier scripted the untimely upset for the Terps with 16 points, often netted at the expense of a Maryland lead. Celeste Taylor (15 points) and Joanne Allen-Taylor (14 points) backed her up, pushing the Longhorns to a matchup with No. 1 seed South Carolina in the Elite Eight.

Maryland sophomore Diamond Miller fought to the end, laying in the last of her game-high 21 points just as time expired.

Only two other Terps scored in double figures: Chloe Bibby (14 points) and Ashley Owusu (10). The Terps shot for 40% (24-for-60) from the field.

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“We didn’t have our best offensive game tonight, and I think that shows,” Bibby said. “We didn’t rebound the ball well. But so proud of how we came out and fought.”

Bibby believes the spotlight intensified by the stakes of the Sweet 16 felt a little too hot on her young teammates Sunday night, but she’s proud of the way they handled it anyway. Fortunately, time equals experience, and nearly every Terp who played tonight should be back next year. Frese hopes senior transfers Katie Benzan and Bibby return for their additional year of eligibility granted by the NCAA.

“They just continue to give us great veteran leadership. They did all season,” Frese said. “They were the pulse of this team; I can’t say enough about them. What a huge addition they were for our team and our program, and it hurts because we wanted to be able to send them even further.”

In the first quarter, Benzan’s 3-pointer sparked a 9-0 run that sent Texas to its first timeout reeling. Benzan assisted three of Maryland’s early-game baskets and her defense helped force two early turnovers for the Longhorns.

However, the Terps quickly learned that the Sweet 16 wouldn’t offer them the same comfort they’d gotten used to in this tournament, or during the regular season. Texas wouldn’t go down that easily.

Led by Collier inside and Kyra Lambert and Allen-Taylor from the perimeter, the Longhorns rushed in behind the Terps with an 8-0 run of their own.

By the time Faith Masonius leapt from the bench to add two points, the Longhorns had put themselves within reach yet again. Benzan’s 3-pointer gave Maryland an 18-12 advantage at the end of the first quarter, but the team’s shooting dipped to 47% while Texas’ rose from its 0-4 start to 33% (5-for-15).

The Terps, who’ve consistently taken care of the ball recently, carried twice as many turnovers (four) as Texas into the second quarter.

But Maryland held down the fort, not with its offense — which Texas did a much better job stopping than Alabama or Mount St. Mary’s — but on the glass. The Terps outrebounded the Longhorns 20-16 in the first half.

However, Maryland, which had 30 points by the end of the first quarter Wednesday, went more than two minutes without scoring early in the second quarter, until Miller hit the first two free throws.

The Terps recovered a bit by halftime to lead 32-25, but the Longhorns still held the nation’s leading offense well below its scoring average. Texas, which averages five 3s a game, hit four by halftime — outshooting Maryland 44% to 40% from long distance — and outscored Maryland off turnovers, 8-6.

Maryland’s 32 points at halftime were its fewest since Feb. 28, when it had just 30 after two quarters against Northwestern – another team with a shut-down defense.

But Texas wasn’t done.

Allen-Taylor’s basket slashed Maryland’s lead to three points to open the third quarter, and Audrey Warren brought it within a bucket once again a few minutes later. Maryland shooters sprinted ahead after every Longhorns basket, letting no seconds waste away as the Terps hit fastbreak point after fastbreak point.

But no one seemed to be able to stop Allen-Taylor. The guard’s third 3-pointer cut Maryland’s lead to one, 41-40.

It wouldn’t be long before Texas claimed hold of it. Collier stepped to the line and hit two free throws, snatching a 42-41 advantage. Back-and-forth they went, with Collier and Miller wrestling one-point advantages from one another as Angel Reese (St. Frances) screamed encouragement in the background.

The Longhorns outscored Maryland 24-15 in the third quarter and put the Terps in a position they had nearly forgotten: losing. Texas led 49-47 heading into the final 10 minutes.

With heavy ball pressure, Texas limited the flow of a Maryland team very accustomed to using the entire floor to dismantle opponents. That tends to wear on you, Frese said.

“I thought you saw the physicality,” Frese said. “Defensively, they were very aggressive. We had a hard time getting open on the wings, we had a hard time getting downhill.”

Bibby ripped the lead away with a 3-pointer, but Allen-Taylor snatched it right back with a layup, sending Maryland to a timeout tangled at 52.

Bibby and redshirt freshman Mimi Collins rattled off back-to-back baskets, protecting the lead like a weak fire in the rain. Collier extinguished it with a layup and a free throw, marking her 19th double double of the year, while her defense locked Maryland up for a four-minute scoring drought.

Bibby once again came through, her layup off a Masonius steal giving Maryland a 59-57 lead.

But this wasn’t Maryland’s story. It was the Longhorns’.

Lambert and Allen-Taylor both scored off the fastbreak, handing Texas the lead. Mistakes that Maryland would’ve never made in the past rattled off the rim, flew out of range, and the Terps surrendered 10 chances at the free-throw line to the Longhorns, who hit five. Maryland also struggled to box out, something it normally excels in.

“I knew they would take this game down limited possessions...” Frese said. “I think we had some uncharacteristic plays, some turnovers we don’t typically have, some late breakdowns defensively, that all gave us problems tonight.”

Miller, her hopes of the Elite Eight crashing down, collected a defensive rebound from Collins, and sped down the lane. She got the final word in the net, and left the NCAA tournament floor for good in 2021.

No matter the outcome, Frese said there wasn’t another team she’d rather coach during a pandemic.

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“Tonight, we weren’t the better team for 40 minutes. That doesn’t diminish anything this team did all season long. They were a joy to coach.”

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After all, Maryland’s national championship ambitions still lay waiting on the table.

“We know we’re better than that,” Bibby said. “We’re just going to use this to fuel us.”

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