Terps women move on to Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. Brenda Frese & several players talk about the game and about Destiny Slocum's three pointer at the end of the first half. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)
COLLEGE PARK — This week, the Maryland women's basketball team was practicing end-of-game scenarios: three seconds on the clock, ball inbounded from the baseline opposite the basket, must-score urgency. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Coach Brenda Frese envisioned the ordinary, too: a long pass, a catch near midcourt, a prayer hopefully answered. The closer the shot to the rim, the better. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough knew that. But she was also standing on the court where the most memorable shot of the NCAA tournament had been attempted days earlier.
"Well, Coach," the Terps senior guard countered, "literally, numbers show that we make it more when we're on [the far] side of the court." Walker-Kimbrough was only half-joking.
In a February win at Indiana, she had hit a buzzer-beater from the wing of Maryland's arc, a three-quarter-court heave with a running start and no hand in her face. But hers, she knew, was not the most compelling piece of evidence.
Destiny Slocum's 70-foot, standstill, soccer-style throw-in just before halftime Sunday — with a West Virginia defender close enough to give her a high-five and a laser-sighted accuracy that sent ball through cylinder and then her teammates to a delirious group hug — has made the freshman point guard the cherubic face of the third-seeded Terps' run to the Sweet 16.
The highlight, which topped the top-10 plays on "SportsCenter" the next day, courted wonder: How was she strong enough to throw it that far? ("She's a monster," explained Lanie Deppe, who oversees the team's strength and conditioning.) This was something she had practiced? (Yes, several times.) And her teammates knew it was a sure thing? ("I thought it was going in, 100 percent," fellow freshman Kaila Charles said.)
But maybe the most revealing question ahead of Saturday's game against No. 10 seed Oregon (22-13) in Bridgeport, Conn., came from the Terps (32-2) themselves. Slocum had been doing this all season. She was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, the conductor of a top-five team. And only now was she getting attention?
Said Frese: "The bigger the moment, the bigger the stage, the bigger she plays."
Slocum set the program freshman record for made 3-pointers three weeks ago, but her pre-West Virginia highlight reel revealed a player who could do more than shoot very well from very, very far away.
In Maryland's first significant test of the season, the Terps led host Louisville, a Sweet 16 team, by two points with under two minutes to go. The Cardinals misfired on a jumper, Maryland collected the rebound, and Slocum caught an outlet pass at midcourt.
Myisha Hines-Allen, Louisville's last line of defense, kept pace, daring the smaller Slocum to meet her at the rim. Slocum did not decline the invitation. She went up for a layup with her right arm nearly parallel to the floor, protecting the ball from what came next: Hines-Allen's left forearm. As Slocum kissed the ball high off the backboard, Hines-Allen smacked her across the collarbone. Slocum did not land comfortably. But, seeing the shot drop in, she bounced up to celebrate, none the worse for wear.
The Dec. 1 battle was never again so close. Maryland won, 78-72.
"She kind of styled 'em a little bit," guard Kristen Confroy said. "She just loves to make plays like that. It's come to the point where we expect it."
Even more than Slocum's scoring ability (11.6 points per game) or indefatigable playing style (team-high 30.7 minutes per game), it's her dribbling that's the source of rhapsodic testimony around the locker room. Her favorite player growing up, after all, was longtime NBA point guard Jason Williams, aka "White Chocolate."
Among her most memorable plays this winter, two have involved someone almost hitting the floor. The first was Northwestern guard Ashley Deary, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. On Jan. 7, Slocum pushed right, spun left and had a half-step on Deary at the left elbow. Then she stopped, pulling back with a between-the-legs crossover dribble. Deary's legs buckled, and as she braced herself for a possible fall, Slocum whipped a pass to guard Ieshia Small for a wide-open 3-pointer.
"I didn't see her fall," Charles said. "I was looking at Ieshia make the shot, and then when I saw the replay, I was like: 'Dang, she really did it.'"
The second someone to almost hit the floor was actually Slocum. Early in the Terps' Feb. 2 game at Purdue, she lost her balance as she pivoted around, looking for a pass. Eventually, Slocum toppled over, her left arm keeping her from a face-plant, her right arm protecting the ball. For a moment, it looked as if she were trying to reproduce the bullet-dodge scene from "The Matrix," only falling forward.
As Boilermakers coaches pleaded for a traveling violation, Slocum awkwardly straightened out her body, her pivot foot unmoved, and Walker-Kimbrough cut to the rim. The pass Slocum had waited so long to make was a good one — the first of a game-high six assists.
Not much has changed since; she's just getting more attention now. Other long-range, buzzer-beating shots dotted her freshman year, but Sunday's was her first to go viral. More than 670,000 people on Facebook have watched the NCAA's video of the play, an attempt that to the world might've seemed impossible but to the Terps was just Destiny.
"One of my teammates said that they weren't surprised it was me, because I hit those kind of shots, and then in my head, I'm like, 'I do?'" Slocum said. "But I guess I have had a fair share of buzzer-beaters this year. So it's just exciting when they come out and cheer for me, and then I can give that back to them when they do something awesome."