UConn runs past Terps, 81-58, in Final Four

TAMPA, FLA. — As the minutes ticked down on a glorious season for the Maryland women's basketball team, an inevitable reality set in.

With their second straight Final Four appearance, Brenda Frese's Terrapins cemented their claim as one of the very best programs in women's basketball.


But Connecticut, the team they were playing in the NCAA tournament semifinal, is the best. And it isn't all that close.

Appearing in their eighth straight Final Four and seeking a third straight national championship, the Huskies ran by Maryland, 81-58, to advance to the tournament final Tuesday night against Notre Dame.


What do you against a phenomenon like Connecticut's 6-foot-4 Breanna Stewart, who was the tallest player on the floor but also possibly the most fluid, the best shooter and the best passer?

What do you do when Stewart is complemented by a blink-quick point guard in Moriah Jefferson, the best outside shooter in the country in Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and another forward who can do it all in Morgan Tuck?

Maryland, like virtually every other team in the land, could not find an answer.

The Terps did their best not to sag as the hopelessness of the situation became clear. "Keep talking," someone shouted from the Maryland bench as the end drew near. But the silence of the Terps' red-clad supporters told the story. No comeback seemed likely against the team in white and blue, which has won nine national titles under coach Geno Auriemma.

As Maryland players reflected on the blowout, with eyes half focused on next year, they spoke of lapses they can't afford against the best opponents.

"You can't give up anything," said sophomore center Brionna Jones, who led Maryland with 14 points. "Once there's a gap, you have to close it fast."

Sophomore Lexie Brown, who added 12 points for the Terps, said her team wasn't as self-assured as Connecticut

"I think some of it was still nerves, even though we've been on this stage before," she said. "UConn's been here the last forever years, so this is a normal game for them. Sometimes, you sustain their runs, and sometimes, they have that one run that's the devastating blow to your team's confidence."

Frese hugged her lone senior, Laurin Mincy, and whispered in her ear as Mincy jogged from the court for a final time, her team down 22. Brown hung her head and held back tears as she left the floor a few seconds later.

Stewart, the National Player of the Year, led Connecticut with 25 points. Tuck added 24.

The loss rubbed little luster from a remarkable season for Frese and her team. After a surprise run to the Final Four in 2014, many expected the Terps to take a step back as they tried to replace do-everything superstar Alyssa Thomas.

But Maryland discovered a multi-pronged formula for success, with four different players capable of going off for 25 points in a given game. After a loss on the road to Notre Dame in early December, the Terps reeled off 28 straight wins, going undefeated in their first season in the Big Ten, winning their conference tournament and earning the third No. 1 seed of Frese's 13-year tenure in College Park.


The Terps itched to play Connecticut in the Final Four, believing they would prove they belong in the very top rank of the women's game. Frese made light of the Huskies' dominance, saying "Aren't we tired of it?"

But Connecticut is the greatest college basketball dynasty since John Wooden's UCLA teams of the 1960s and 1970s, and Maryland again learned why, falling to 0-4 all-time against Auriemma's juggernaut.

As Auriemma and his players tell it, they live in an eternal fish bowl, with every other coach and player in the sport viewing a win over UConn as the ultimate catch.

They embrace this existence, and if it wears on them, you'd never know.

On Sunday morning, for example, those strolling the Tampa riverfront were greeted by a rare sight—a troop of very tall women in basketball gear, combing through the bushes for bits of brightly-hued plastic. Yes, the two-time defending national champions were holding an Easter egg hunt on the morning of their semifinal.

Connecticut cut a fast pace early, but Maryland matched the Huskies shot for shot, with four different Terps scoring before the first television timeout. Frese and her players said all week they'd be happy to run with the No. 1 scoring team in the country after a grinding regional final win over Tennessee.

Frese substituted liberally, trying to use her greater depth to mitigate Connecticut's aggression. But only one team all season has kept up with the Huskies, and that was Stanford, way back in November. As the first half sped by, Connecticut pulled away, building an 11-point lead going into the locker room.

Maryland could not stay in front of Huskies point guard Jefferson, who was the smallest player on the court but also the quickest. Brown had acknowledged the difficulty of the match-up the day before, and Jefferson scooted by her and Maryland's other perimeter defenders for 11 first-half points.

The Terps also struggled to stop Tuck, who drove by Maryland's slower frontcourt players on the way to 13 points before the half.

Frese tried to stoke her team's fire, stalking the sideline in half crouch, clapping with a staccato rhythm. But the Huskies simply kept coming, with one high-end weapon giving way to the next. They extended the lead to 20 early in the second half and retained a comfortable margin from then on.

Looking ahead, Maryland will lose Mincy, who inspired teammates by fighting back from two knee surgeries to lead the team in scoring as a senior. But with the terrific trio of Brown, Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough returning, Frese's team will surely start next season with a high ranking and excellent prospects for another Final Four trip.

And if they make it, odds are Connecticut will be waiting.

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