Alyssa Thomas, Maryland head to Elite Eight with thorough win over No. 1 seed Tennessee

Behind a masterful performance from Alyssa Thomas, the fourth-seeded Maryland women’s basketball team forged a comfortable lead in the first half and made it stand the rest of the way for a 73-62 victory over No. 1 seed Tennessee on Sunday afternoon in the NCAA tournament’s round of 16 at KFC Yum! Center.

Thomas finished with a career-high 33 points and a team-high 13 rebounds to send the Terrapins to their second region final appearance in three seasons and their first win over a No. 1 seed since 2005-06, when Maryland beat two on the way to its only national championship. The Terrapins will play third-seeded Louisville, a 73-47 winner over No. 7 LSU in Sunday afternoon’s late game, on Tuesday night for the right to advance to the Final Four.

“I have the utmost respect for the tradition Tennessee has,” said Maryland Coach Brenda Frese, who led the Terrapins to their fifth region final in her 12 seasons in College Park. “That’s where we all want to be, but I was really proud of the fact that our kids played for Maryland and played with a lot of confidence, were never intimidated and really played for each other.”

Maryland (27-6) won its third in a row, its seventh in eight games and for the 11th time in 13 games thanks to contributions from three other players who reached double figures. The Terrapins forced the eight-time national champions into 22 turnovers, scoring 19 points off those miscues and limiting Tennessee to 36 percent shooting.

Freshman point guard Lexie Brown had 14 points and junior guard Laurin Mincy added 11 points and five rebounds for Maryland, which held a 10-point margin in points off turnovers, 17-9 in second-chance points and 38-28 on points in the paint.

Thomas “did just about everything she wanted to do,” Lady Vols Coach Holly Warlick said. “We didn’t have an answer for her.”

Maryland matched its largest lead of the game when Thomas (14-for-25 shooting, three assists, zero turnovers) split a double-team for a layup that made it 51-33 with 12 minutes 11 seconds left in regulation. That field goal from the three-time ACC player of the year completed a 7-0 run that had the Terrapins on the verge of being able to pull away completely.

But Tennessee’s Meighan Simmons, the Southeastern Conference player of the year, shook off 4-for-13 shooting in the first half to help the Lady Vols get within 60-52 with 6:27 to play. Their lone senior scored 14 of her team’s next 19 points following Thomas’s basket, and Tennessee (29-6) had the Terrapins somewhat on their heels.

The Terrapins regrouped and pushed the lead back to double figures when Mincy swished a three-pointer from the left baseline off an assist from Thomas, who added a coast-to-coast layup following her defensive rebound moments later for a 67-53 advantage with 4:40 to go.

“I think the coaching staff just did a good job preparing us for Tennessee,” Mincy said. “We knew that we had to beat them on the boards to win this game, so we focused on that for the last few days.”

Early in the first half, Frese implored her players to attack, and they responded by going aggressively to the basket during a 16-4 rush that included two three-pointers and two three-point plays. The flurry began with Mincy’s three-pointer, and after freshman guard Jordan Reynolds answered for Tennessee, the Terrapins got a basket from beyond the arc from Brown.

On Maryland’s ensuing possession, Mincy sank a driving layup while drawing contact and made the bonus free throw for a 15-7 lead. Simmons drew the Lady Vols within six on a pair of foul shots, but Maryland reeled off the next seven in a row starting with freshman guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough’s three-point play on a layup and the bonus.

Mincy again went strong to the basket and dropped in a field goal off the backboard before Thomas made a pair of foul shots for a 22-9 margin with 12:21 left in the first half. The Terrapins extended the lead to 31-15 when Thomas made a three-pointer from the right baseline shortly after officials issued Frese a warning for disputing a foul call on freshman center Brionna Jones.

Maryland went without a field goal over the next four-plus minutes, allowing the Lady Vols to whittle the margin below double figures several times. But the Terrapins scored eight of the final 11 points to close the first half and took a 41-27 lead into the locker room.

“We knew we could get to the rim on them,” Thomas said. “That was my mentality, just get to the rim and just try to get easy shots.”

Gene Wang is a sports reporter covering multiple beats, including Navy football, the Capitals, Wizards, Nationals, women’s basketball, auto racing, boxing and golf. He also covers Fantasy Football.
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