NCAA women’s tournament: Alyssa Thomas leads No. 5 Maryland past Navy

March 17, 2012

The Maryland women’s basketball team had not played in two weeks heading into Saturday, and the rust was apparent early on against Navy in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Comcast Center.

But in the second half, Terrapins sophomore forward Alyssa Thomas directed Maryland out of its malaise to forge a 59-44 victory that extended the No. 2 seed’s winning streak to eight in a row and 11 of 12.

The ACC player of the year scored or assisted on 16 of Maryland’s first 24 points after intermission to finish with a game-high 17 points before 5,624. Thomas made 5 of 7 shots after the break and finished 7 of 14 from the field, adding a game-high 10 rebounds and four assists.

“I knew at breakfast actually when I asked her how she slept last night and she said, ‘Not good,’ she was too amped up,” Terrapins Coach Brenda Frese said of Thomas, who missed two layups and a short jumper in the first half. “When she’s missing easy plays, that’s not her. It’s just that she’s so ready to play and so excited.”

By the time Thomas settled in, Maryland (29-4) had built a 12-point lead with 17 minutes to play, only to have the 15th-seeded Midshipmen (18-14) get within 37-30 on a field goal by sophomore forward Jade Geif and freshman guard Chloe Stapleton’s three-pointer.

But the ACC tournament champions countered with eight consecutive points to take a 45-30 lead five minutes later, and another 8-0 run all but secured a second-round game against seventh-seeded Louisville. Thomas scored six points during the second flurry, including a jumper with 6 minutes 31 seconds left for a 57-36 advantage, Maryland’s most comfortable lead of the game.

Sophomore guard Laurin Mincy was the only other Maryland player in double figures with 14 points, shooting 5 of 8, to go along with six rebounds. No other player had more than six points for the Terrapins, who shot 38 percent but committed just 11 turnovers, one short of equaling their fewest this season.

Maryland owned a 32-18 advantage in points in the paint, and while it outrebounded Navy, 46-33, much of that disparity came in the first half. The undersized Midshipmen’s 19 rebounds in the second half were tied with Maryland.

Geif led the Patriot League tournament champions with 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting and collected seven rebounds. The two-time Patriot League tournament most outstanding player was the only Navy player to score in double figures, often having to shoot under taller Maryland defenders near the basket.

“We knew coming in they were going to be bigger and more athletic overall, even on the guards, obviously,” said Geif, who in Navy’s first NCAA appearance last season had 14 points and 10 rebounds in a first-round loss to DePaul. “So getting into the paint was going to be a lot harder. They wouldn’t need to bring the double because they did have bigger girls, but I’m proud of our rebounding.”

Maryland’s length particularly on the outside forced Navy into contested shots it normally wouldn’t encounter in the Patriot League. That led to the Midshipmen shooting 30 percent, including 1 of 12 from three-point range in the second half.

Starters Audrey Bauer, Alix Membrano and Kara Pollinger, all sophomores, combined to shoot 6 for 35 and missed 13 of 16 three-point attempts.

Maryland, meantime, constructed its first substantial lead with three three-pointers in a row in the first half. Senior guard-forward Kim Rodgers made two of them, and freshman point guard Brene Moseley’s shot from beyond the arc with 4:44 left until intermission gave the Terrapins a 26-17 buffer.

The Terrapins made 4 of 6 three-pointers in the first half and went into halftime with a 31-23 lead before Thomas showed why she’s a finalist for national player of the year in becoming the second fastest in program history to reach 1,000 points.

The ACC tournament’s most outstanding player needed 10 points on Saturday to hit that milestone.

“Coach B challenged me at halftime and told me I needed to calm down and come out and make plays,” said Thomas, who logged her 10th double-double this season and 19th of her career. “So I just kind of slowed myself down and focused out there.”

LOUISVILLE 67, MICHIGAN STATE 55: Becky Burke scored 14 points, Shawnta Dyer had 13 and the seventh-seeded Cardinals beat the 10th-seeded Spartans.

Louisville rattled Michigan State with speed and defense, forcing 14 turnovers and pulling away with a 16-2 run late in the first half.

The Cardinals improved to 23-9. The Spartans finished the season at 20-12.

Louisville is coached by Jeff Walz, who was an assistant coach on Maryland’s national title team in 2006 before taking the top job with the Cardinals in 2007.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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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