The eighth-ranked Maryland women’s basketball team had been eagerly anticipating Sunday’s rematch against No. 5 Duke since losing badly to its most bitter rival two weeks ago. This time the game would be at Comcast Center, and the Terrapins would not have to contend with Chelsea Gray, the Blue Devils’ best player, who is out indefinitely with a knee injury.
Then what was supposed to be an afternoon of redemption quickly turned into another lopsided result, 75-59, with Maryland’s top two players limited to pedestrian performances and the Terrapins missing 15 of 18 three-pointers in their third loss in four games to Duke.
Maryland got a team-high 16 points and nine rebounds from senior forward Tianna Hawkins, and junior forward Alyssa Thomas added 14 points and six rebounds, but neither was able to affect the outcome the way Gray did with a career-high 28 points in a 71-56 win Feb. 11 in Durham, N.C.
“Tough night for us,” Maryland Coach Brenda Frese said. “Credit Duke. I thought they came in here ready to play. I thought they shot the ball extremely well. Their physicality, it’s hard to match on the glass, and they did a really good job, I thought, early setting the tone. It took us back.”
In front of 15,853, the seventh-largest crowd in ACC history to witness a women’s basketball game, the Terrapins (22-5, 13-3 ACC) had a three-game winning streak end and were officially eliminated from contention for the conference regular season championship.
That title instead belongs for a fourth consecutive time to the Blue Devils (26-1, 16-0), who matched their own record for best start in ACC history in part by shooting 48 percent, including 6 of 12 from three-point range, and making 11 of 12 free throws. Duke kept pace with Maryland inside too, collecting just one fewer rebound against the group that came in with second-highest rebounding margin (plus-15.6) in the country.
Despite missing its starting back court because of injury, Maryland had been flourishing most of the season without a true point guard, but the Blue Devils exposed that deficiency for the second straight game. Freshman Chloe Pavlech and junior Katie Rutan, who have being filling in for Brene Moseley and Laurin Mincy after both were lost with torn anterior cruciate ligaments, combined for 13 points on 5-for-18 shooting and missed 11 of 14 three-point attempts.
“The way we came out, we didn’t have maximum effort,” said Pavlech, whose two turnovers were seven fewer than her season high in the teams’ previous meeting. “Obviously our energy wasn’t there, so a lot of shots were short, and I think we came out flat, and that’s what kind of led to it.”
Duke took command on the strength of an 18-4 run beginning with junior forward Richa Jackson’s jumper six minutes into the first half. That field goal gave the Blue Devils the lead for good, and junior forward Haley Peters followed with a three-pointer before sophomore center Elizabeth Williams’s layup provided a 17-11 lead.
Moments after Maryland freshman center Malina Howard sank a jumper to make it 21-15, Duke scored seven in a row, including the first of three three-pointers by junior guard Tricia Liston, who did not miss from beyond the arc or the free throw line (4 for 4).
Liston and Alexis Jones, who became the starting point guard when Gray was injured Feb. 17 against Wake Forest, each had 15 points, and Jones had a career-high nine assists with a steal and just two turnovers. The Blue Devils had four players reach double figures, with Williams scoring a game-high 16.
“We’re just trying to get better,” said Duke Coach Joanne P. McCallie, who provided bulletin-board material for Maryland this week with several tweets after the Terrapins men upset Duke the day before Gray was hurt. “We’re just trying to grow as a team. We have an all-American point guard out for the season, which has never happened in the history of the ACC. . . . You can imagine how teams would feel if they lost their very best player. I just think it’s great that our team knows how they can play.”