Laurin Mincy had practically willed the Maryland women’s basketball team into the lead in the final minutes of Monday night’s NCAA tournament game when the sophomore guard found herself in front of Louisville’s Becky Burke, who was squaring up for a potential tying three-pointer in the final seconds.
With a trip to the Sweet 16 at stake and the Comcast Center crowd in a frenzy, Mincy reached out her right hand to graze the ball as Burke shot. The shot was errant and the Terrapins held on to defeat the Cardinals, 72-68, in a game that was as much about tenacity as technique.
Mincy finished with a game-high 24 points, one point from her career best. She had put the No. 2 seed in the Raleigh Region ahead to stay by sinking both ends of one-and-one foul shots with 4 minutes 26 seconds to play.
Mincy’s free throws came during a 13-4 closing kick for the Terrapins, who won their ninth in a row.
Junior forward Tianna Hawkins added 15 points and a game-high 14 rebounds to go along with a career-high six steals, providing a rugged presence underneath in a game in which the teams combined for 41 fouls. Foul trouble, in fact, limited Maryland leading scorer Alyssa Thomas — the second sophomore to be named ACC player of the year — to six points, matching her season low.
“A lot of adversity when you talk about for us,” said Coach Brenda Frese, who is making her fourth appearance in the region semifinals in 10 seasons at Maryland. “Foul trouble. Slow start. But I thought our team just did a tremendous job hanging in there.”
All the more gratifying for Maryland, which plays either Texas A&M or Arkansas on Sunday, was that the victory came at the expense of Louisville Coach Jeff Walz.
Walz was an assistant under Frese for five years before leaving in acrimonious circumstances. In the first meeting between the teams following Walz’s departure, the Cardinals dispatched Maryland from the region final in Raleigh, 77-60, in 2009.
But it was the Terrapins who had the last word this time, thanks in part to clutch foul shooting down the stretch and a swarming defense that forced seventh-seeded Louisville into 16 turnovers. Maryland scored 22 points off those errors to help counter Louisville’s 36-26 advantage in the paint.
“I told our players if we could keep them off the offensive glass, limit our turnovers and stop them in transition, then we will have a great chance to win,” Walz said. “I really thought we were going to win today.”
Maryland also was misfiring badly at the foul line, at one point having missed 9 of 16. But the recovery came in the nick of time, with the Terrapins sinking eight of their final 11. Following Mincy’s go-ahead free throws, senior guard-forward Kim Rodgers made 1 of 2, and off the miss, Hawkins collected the offensive rebound and scored for a 68-64 lead with 3:58 to play.
Burke followed with a pair of foul shots, but Hawkins kept Louisville at bay with another crucial basket after momentarily losing control of an entry pass from freshman guard Brene Moseley. With the ball loose on the floor, Hawkins gathered it and scored with 1:45 to go.
Asia Taylor’s short jumper eight seconds later drew Louisville (23-10) within two, and Mincy went strong to the basket on the other end as Bria Smith fouled her. Mincy made the second of two free throws with 34 seconds to play to keep the game within one possession.
After Burke stole the ball from Hawkins with 17 seconds left, Walz called timeout two seconds later, setting up the dramatic final sequence. Hawkins then got the rebound off Mincy’s block and made 1 of 2 free throws to send Maryland to its first region semifinal since 2008-09.
“Going into the game, our mentality was to attack and advance, so I just went with that,” said Mincy, who shot 6 for 10 and made 10 of 13 free throws with seven rebounds and two assists. “Luckily I was able to execute.”