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Chloe Pavlech boosts Maryland women’s basketball with clutch play

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A little more than two weeks ago, shortly after the Maryland women’s basketball team throttled then-No. 11 North Carolina to end the Tar Heels’ 11-game winning streak, Chloe Pavlech walked into the interview room at Comcast Center with teammates Alyssa Thomas and Tianna Hawkins and Coach Brenda Frese.

All three praised the freshman guard for one of her most productive games of the season.

Connecting on 5 of 6 shots, Pavlech tallied 18 points, two off her career high, in helping provide redemption for a three-point loss to North Carolina at the beginning of the calendar year. It also was the third game against a ranked team in which Pavlech’s daring and clutch shooting belied her youth.

“I think they call that a show pony,” Pavlech said somewhat mischievously when asked about her knack for playing her best against the highest-caliber opponents.

That remark got Thomas laughing so much that the normally placid junior all-American forward had to bow her head in order to regain her composure and finish answering questions from reporters. Soon enough Frese and Hawkins also were smiling broadly, much like the rest of the team often does when Pavlech provides witty observations that keep the atmosphere light.

Not forecasted at the start of the season to play extensively, Pavlech has given the No. 7 Terrapins (19-3, 10-1 ACC) plenty of reason for optimism heading into Monday night’s game against archrival Duke, ranked fifth in the country and unbeaten in the ACC. The Blue Devils (21-1, 11-0) suffered their only loss Jan. 21 against No. 3 Connecticut, 79-49.

Roughly a month and a half earlier, Maryland got its first glimpse of Pavlech’s moxie in a game against the Huskies at XL Center in Hartford, Conn. Although the Terrapins lost, 63-48, with a depleted roster, they pushed the seven-time national champions thanks in part to Pavlech’s 10 points.

Pavlech’s steal with 13 minutes 7 seconds to play led to a three-pointer by junior guard Katie Rutan that trimmed the lead to nine, and Pavlech followed by driving for a layup to draw Maryland to 40-33. She repeatedly got deep into the lane against the Huskies in just the sixth game of her college career, shooting 5 for 10 with three assists and two steals.

“We need her to step up big for us,” Thomas said of the 5-foot-9 Pavlech. “She can come in an knock down big shots. It just opens it up for everybody else.”

Pavlech’s career high of 20 points came Jan. 10 in an 84-62 win against then-No. 24 Miami at Comcast Center. She shot 8 for 11, including 3 of 6 from three-point range, and had two assists and two rebounds.

Pavlech is averaging 5.6 points per game and is second on Maryland in three-pointers made (17) and assists (4.0). She’s averaging nearly 13 points per game against ranked opponents and is the only freshman in the conference in the top 10 in assists.

“I’m really excited about this game, and I know if I just keep doing what I have been doing this whole season, I’ll be successful, and that’ll help my team be even more successful,” Pavlech said. “When you have great players like Tianna Hawkins and Alyssa Thomas, they make it easy for me.”

Hawkins leads the ACC in scoring (19.1) and is second in rebounding (9.9) and field goal percentage (.589). Thomas, meantime, is first in rebounding (10.3) and second in scoring (17.1) and assists (5.5), making a strong case to win her second consecutive ACC player of the year award.

Because of season-ending ACL injuries to sophomore point guard Brene Moseley and junior shooting guard Laurin Mincy, both starters, Thomas has had to handle the ball much more than during her first two seasons. But Pavlech has been a dependable secondary option with the ball in her hands too, ranking fourth in the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.5).

“Chloe has made believers out of everyone,” Frese said. “She has come in on the biggest stages and had her biggest moments. That’s a credit to Chloe for coming in and being prepared and the background she’s had to prepare her for now, but no question she’s exceeded expectations.”

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