Maryland coach Brenda Frese talks about the Terps early exit from the NCAA Women's Tournament, losing to Washington, 74-65.
It was a night when they never felt like themselves.
They were on their home court, coming off a second straight Big Ten Conference championship and aiming for a third straight Final Four. They prided themselves on an unflappability they'd developed during a chaotic summer and countless hard-fought games.
But, confronted with a dense thicket of wide and tall Washington Huskies, their passes suddenly failed to find the mark and too many of their shots rattled in and out.
The tears rimming the eyes of four seniors told the story Monday evening: The Maryland women's basketball team was out of the NCAA tournament after a 74-65 loss to Washington that none of the confident Terps saw coming.
"This thing stings a lot," said coach Brenda Frese, holding her son Markus at the postgame news conference.
Seeking a third straight trip to the Final Four, Maryland (31-4) instead failed to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2011. It was a stunning setback for a serious-minded group that had expected to make another deep run in the tournament.
"I'm numb," said senior Brene Moseley, who watched her career end on the same court where she overcame a serious knee injury to become one of the nation's best point guards. "I think we all played our hardest."
The No. 7 seed Huskies (24-10) used a 20-8 third quarter to erase Maryland's five-point halftime lead, and the Terps never recovered.
Frese and her players had talked about needing to be sharper than they were in a 74-58 opening-round win over Iona. But Washington's zone defense flummoxed the Terps for most of the night.
Afterward, the players said game film did not do justice to Washington's size, which bothered them every time they tried to find a passing lane or drive into the paint.
"I don't think we got into the flow of the game, ever," said senior center Malina Howard.
Maryland shot 37 percent for the game and committed 15 turnovers. All-Big Ten center Brionna Jones (Aberdeen), swarmed by Washington's big bodies, struggled to a season-worst four points.
"It was job one and two and three and four," Huskies coach Mike Neighbors said of neutralizing the 6-foot-3 Jones. "It was about the only thing we talked about in shootaround today was make sure she feels like she's playing in a crowd and I don't know what she said but she had to feel like that, because she had two, three, four bodies around her most of the time she caught it."
Frese gave Washington enormous credit for its game plan on Jones. "I think the physicality bothered her, and they did a phenomenal job swarming her when she put the ball on the floor," she said.
Jones had scored in double figures in 32 of Maryland's 34 games coming in and had failed to make at least half her shots just three times. The soft-spoken star, described by teammates as their offensive rock throughout the season, could only shake her head in the postgame locker room.
"For me, it was just frustrating to deal with some of the early calls," she said. "And then I had trouble getting locked back in."
Washington star Kelsey Plum, who entered as the nation's fourth-leading scorer, finished with a game-high 32 points and Talia Walton added 20. Plum made just eight of 24 shots from the field, but her aggressive drives led to 14 free-throw attempts. The Huskies made 20 free throws to Maryland's five, more than the final margin of the game.
Maryland attempted a fourth-quarter rally behind Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who finished with a team-high 17 points, but could never cut the lead to less than three.
The loss abruptly ended the careers of seniors Howard, Moseley, Tierney Pfirman and Chloe Pavlech. They lost on their home court just eight times in four seasons and played in those two Final Fours. But they struggled to focus on any of that as they contemplated removing their uniforms for a final time.
"It's definitely going to be hard," Pavlech said. "I won't be on social media for awhile, and I know I won't want to go to class."
"It hurts a lot," Howard said, her words giving way to sobs.
Juniors Walker-Kimbrough and Jones and sophomore Kristen Confroy will have another chance next year, aided by the nation's No. 1 recruiting class. But they weren't ready to talk about that Monday night.
"I think right now, there's just a lot of disappointment about how we sent our seniors out," Confroy said. "Maybe tomorrow, we'll be able to think about the future."
The Terps started out cold from the field, making just four of their first 17 shots as Washington built a 19-11 lead by the end of the first quarter. Maryland struggled to create shots in the paint against Washington's zone defense and failed to compensate by making open 3-point attempts.
Two troubling trends carried over from the Terps' first-round win over Iona: They turned the ball over five times in the first 10 minutes. And they struggled to get Jones untracked.
The nation's leading percentage shooter scored just two points on 1-of-4 shooting in the first half. She seemed bothered by the Huskies' zone and by the aggressive defense of bulky center Chantel Osahor. Jones also committed two early fouls.
The Terps heated up quickly to start the second quarter, going on an 8-0 run to even the game. They shot 10-of-19 for the quarter to take a 34-29 lead at halftime.
But the game seesawed again in the third quarter, with Maryland unable to find any offensive flow as Washington stars Plum and Walton punished the Terps with 3-pointers and aggressive drives on the other end.
Frese said she was concerned after her team's sloppy performance Saturday against. But she had watched this group bounce back before.
"Our team has been able to move through those situations," she said. "So I was surprised."