Despite injuries that ravaged its roster and left the back court unsettled, the Maryland women’s basketball team had been able to survive and even prosper thanks in large part to Alyssa Thomas and Chloe Pavlech handling the basketball.
The two rotated ballhandling duties, and the Terrapins at times appeared not to miss starting shooting guard Laurin Mincy, lost in November with a torn ACL, and sophomore point guard Brene Moseley, who was in line to become a starter until tearing her ACL in October.
But in Saturday’s Sweet 16 matchup against No. 1 seed Connecticut, the fourth-seeded Terrapins stepped up considerably in class of opponent, and the patchwork lineup that had carried them to second place in the rugged ACC during the regular season could not hold up in the face of swarming defense and a deep bench that allowed the Huskies to stay fresher and more energetic.
Among the most glaring statistics from the 76-50 loss was Connecticut’s 25-0 advantage in bench points. While the Huskies had three reserves play at least 16 minutes, Maryland got 20 minutes from freshman forward Malina Howard and two from junior guard Sequoia Austin, who began her career at Maryland as a walk-on.
“I think from the offensive end going into this game that was my biggest concern, just the lack of depth that we have in our back court,” said Maryland Coach Brenda Frese, who selected ACC coach of the year in voting by her peers after keeping her team together in the face of injuries to four players in all.
Connecticut was able to force 16 turnovers, and although that number was 10 less than Maryland committed in a 63-48 loss to the seven-time national champions Dec. 3, it still was twice as many as its opponent. The Huskies also had 10 steals and never allowed the Terrapins to grow comfortable running their offense.
Thomas wound up missing 12 of 16 shots. In two games against Connecticut, the all-American has combined to shoot 6 for 28, and this latest performance comes on heels of a four-game stretch when she averaged 29 points.
“We have the hand we were dealt,” Frese said. “After watching film, you can see our deficiencies with our back court. We had to ask Alyssa to do a lot this season, especially at the point. It’s a lot to do against Connecticut.”
So a season that began with Final Four aspirations ended two victories short of that goal, but there is reason to be optimistic in the near future. Only senior forward Tianna Hawkins will not be back next season, and presumably Maryland will have back not only Moseley and Mincy but also forward Tierney Pfirman, who was in and out of the starting lineup as a freshman, and reserve center Essence Townsend.
The Terrapins also welcome a top-five recruiting class that includes point guard Lexi Brown, the daughter of Detroit Pacers assistant and former NBA dunk champion Dee Brown.
“Next year we’ll have plenty of numbers, a full roster,” said Thomas, who almost certainly will be among the preseason candidates for national player of the year with the graduation of seniors Brittney Griner (Baylor), Skylar Diggins (Notre Dame) and Elena Delle Donne (Delaware). “Not to take away from this season, but we’re looking forward to what next season brings. We’re going to be a very tough team to stop next year.”