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Posted at 02:23 PM ET, 03/23/2011

Maryland women vow to be back better next season

As the final minutes wound down in last night’s second-round NCAA women’s basketball tournament game at Comcast Center, the players on the Maryland bench sat in stunned silence. It wasn’t until they retreated to the locker room that they were able to process fully the finality of a 79-57 loss to Georgetown that was the Terrapins’ worst in the NCAA tournament since 1997.

All the more demoralizing was that it came at the hands of a crosstown rival that has narrowed the disparity considerably — if not erased it all together — in area women’s basketball.

When several players and Coach Brenda Frese finally arrived at the postgame news conference, the emotion of the moment was almost too much to bear for junior guard Kim Rodgers, among the most thoughtful players on the team and always a voice of reason.

“I think when we got down by 11 in that first part of the game, it was hard for us to,” Rodgers said, beginning a thought but unable to finish while choking back tears.

Rodgers apologized as she tried to gather herself, clearly taking the loss harder than anyone. Rodgers had spoken extensively the day before the game about having to limit Georgetown’s Sugar Rodgers to have a chance to win, and she drew the difficult assignment at the start of guarding the Big East’s second-leading scorer.

Wearing the customary brace on her right knee that was surgically repaired several years ago, Kim Rodgers dug in, but this was to be one of those nights when Sugar Rodgers almost couldn’t miss. That was especially so in the first four minutes, with the first-team all-Big East guard collecting eight points during an 11-0 run immediately after tip-off that had Maryland playing from behind for all but 14 seconds the rest of the way.

Sugar Rodgers wound up with a career-high 34 points and tied a career best with seven three-pointers. Nothing Maryland tried seemed to be able to slow the dynamic scorer, whose 21 points at halftime were just five less than Maryland’s total as a team.

With about eight minutes to go before halftime, Frese rotated freshman guard Laurin Mincy to defend Sugar Rodgers, and it worked briefly, although Georgetown’s all-American candidate still had 23 points in the second half.

“I think in the beginning she got hot, and once she got hot, it was hard to cool her off,” junior guard Anjale Barrett said. “There were some times we lost her a little bit on defense, but she was on fire today.”

The energy expended chasing Sugar Rodgers also affected Kim Rodgers on offense. Kim Rodgers is among Maryland’s top three-point shooters, but she took just one shot from that range all game. It was her only shot from the field overall as well in 11 minutes.

Playing in their second NCAA tournament game after failing to qualify for the event last season, the Terrapins (24-8) clearly missed Kim Rodgers’s contributions from beyond the arc, where they went 3 for 16. When Maryland needed a momentum-turning three-pointer t his season, it was Rodgers who often answered the call. The highlight of her college career came when she sank a three-pointer at the buzzer this season to beat Georgia Tech, 56-53, on Feb. 3.

That shot essentially secured Maryland the No. 4 seed and a first-round bye in the ACC tournament. Maryland and Georgia Tech finished tied for fourth place in the conference, but the Terrapins, who are one of seven division I teams without any seniors, won the head-to-head tiebreaker thanks to Rodgers.

“We got beat by a very good Georgetown team, an experienced team, a team that’s been here,” said Frese, who suffered her most lopsided loss in the NCAA tournament since coming to Maryland nine years ago. “Unfortunately it didn’t show tonight, but I’m proud of our team. We’re young. We’ve got 10 freshmen and sophomores, and we played like it tonight.

“We showed our youth. We showed our inexperience, but you know what? We’ll get better from it. This is a tough lesson to have to learn here in your own building, but we’ll learn from it, and we’ll get better from it.”

ACC rookie of the year Alyssa Thomas led Maryland with team highs of 23 points and 14 rebounds, and junior center Lynetta Kizer chipped in 11 points and 10 rebounds. Mincy added 12 points and four rebounds in 26 minutes, continuing a late-season trend in which the high school all-American has become much more involved offensively.

Mincy averaged nearly 25 minutes per game over the final five games, and she figures to have a shot at cracking the starting lineup next season, which Maryland almost certainly will begin highly ranked.

“They forced us to play a game that wasn’t Maryland basketball,” Kizer said. “We just have to get back to it in this offseason and come back next year. Like coach said, we’ll be back.”

By  |  02:23 PM ET, 03/23/2011

 
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