Maryland defeats Texas, reaches Sweet 16 in NCAA women’s tournament

Alyssa Thomas was not about to bow out like this in her final home game. Maryland’s senior forward had accomplished too much in her career and in particular at Comcast Center to shrink in the NCAA tournament, where Tuesday night the three-time ACC player of the year missed her first six shots in a second-round showdown against Texas.

So with less than two minutes elapsed in the second half, Maryland’s career scoring leader swished a jumper to end the drought, then played a key role in a decisive run and finished with a game-high 16 points that allowed the No. 4 seed in the Louisville Region to escape, 69-64, in front of 4,042.

The win earned the Terrapins (26-6) their third straight trip to the regional semifinals, where they will play top-seeded Tennessee on Sunday at the KFC Yum Center in Louisville. The Lady Vols have won eight national championships to match Connecticut for the most in women’s basketball history.

“Obviously extremely proud of our team,” said Maryland Coach Brenda Frese, who is making her sixth trip to the round of 16 in her 12 seasons in College Park. “We had to find different ways to be able to put this game together, obviously to see the sacrifices the team has made all season long, to have different players step with big plays over and over. In the first half, I can’t remember that last time I saw Alyssa with zero points, and we were tied at halftime.”

Thomas made 5 of 8 shots after the break and added 11 rebounds and five assists to push the Terrapins to their sixth win in seven games and 10th in their past 12. Senior center Alicia DeVaughn chipped in 12 points and seven rebounds, and freshman point guard Lexie Brown and junior guard Laurin Mincy each contributed 10 points.

After 13 lead changes, Maryland went ahead to stay, 39-38, when DeVaughn made a pair of free throws with 16 minutes 57 seconds remaining. Thomas followed with a three-point play for a 44-38 advantage.

“She forces her will on you, and that’s what great players do,” Longhorns Coach Karen Aston said.

The Terrapins extended the lead to seven with two more DeVaughn free throws and Brown’s jumper, but Krystle Henderson answered for fifth-seeded Texas with a three-pointer. From there, Maryland scored seven in a row, capped by sophomore center Malina Howard’s layup with 9:24 to play for a 55-44 buffer that was the Terrapins’ largest of the game.

Maryland led 65-56 with 3:20 to go when the Longhorns got consecutive three-pointers from Henderson (team-high 14 points) and a layup by 6-foot-7 center Imani McGee-Stafford to whittle the margin to one. After its final timeout with 45 seconds to play, Texas (23-12) missed a pair of three-pointers, including an open look by Chassidy Fussell, and turned it over on its final possession.

“We just knew coming in it was going to be a physical game,” DeVaughn said. “We played together. Communication, we had the help side. We just communicated throughout the whole game, and it was just easy to know that I had help, or Malina had help. We were just working with each other, and it was great.”

The Terrapins sealed it with four straight free throws over the final 29 seconds, including a pair from Thomas for the final points.

Maryland shot 46 percent in the second half, got 29 points from its bench and was able to overcome 17 turnovers thanks in part to a 42-33 margin in rebounding, including plus-11 in the second half. The Terrapins had only four foul shots in the first half, but made 16 of 18 and owned advantages in points in the paint (28-22) and points off turnovers (12-8).

“This is the most depth that we’ve had I think since I’ve been here,” Thomas said. “Just the energy and how we’re willing to fight for each other. It’s definitely different than [other trips to the round of 16 in] the four years I’ve been here, and it’s going to be a special ride.”

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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