Alyssa Thomas recently was reflecting on her decorated career with the Maryland women’s basketball team when the senior paused to try to recall the first time she stepped onto the court at Comcast Center for a game. The date was Nov. 30, 2010, and Thomas, starting as a freshman, had 10 points and six rebounds in a win against Monmouth.
The specifics of that modest debut had escaped her, prompting Thomas to shake her head and smile before saying how quickly her four years in College Park have passed. Over that period, Thomas has become the school’s career scoring leader among men and women, its first three-time ACC player of the year and a two-time all-American with her name and jersey number emblazoned on a banner hanging from the rafters.
So it’s of little surprise heading into their final home game that Thomas and her classmates said they are going to have to manage what figures to be plenty of sentiment Tuesday night when the fourth-seeded Terrapins play No. 5 seed Texas in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
“You’ve just got to stay focused,” said Thomas, who has started in each of her 131 games. “You can’t let the emotions get to you.”
Thomas is coming off her lowest scoring game in seven weeks, but 11th-ranked Maryland was comfortably ahead when she departed Sunday’s 90-52 victory over Army early in the second half with 13 points and a game-high 14 rebounds. Point guard Lexie Brown, an ACC all-freshman selection, picked up the primary scoring duties with a team-high 21 points on 9-for-11 shooting.
The Terrapins also received substantial contributions from junior Laurin Mincy, who initially was part of this year’s senior class until she tore her anterior cruciate ligament last season and redshirted. The backup guard is Maryland’s most tenacious on-ball defender, and her assignment was to keep in check Army’s two-time player of the year Kelsey Minato.
The sophomore had scored 49 points in a game and twice reached 31 this season, but with Mincy guarding her in the first half, Minato managed one field goal as the Terrapins pulled away with a 29-2 surge. Mincy also made a three-pointer from the left baseline with 7 minutes 52 seconds left until intermission that put Maryland ahead to stay.
The Terrapins’ second-leading scorer behind Thomas two seasons ago has played some of her best basketball in the NCAA tournament. In 2011-12, for instance, she matched Thomas with a game-high 21 points and added a career-high 12 rebounds in an 81-74 win against Texas A&M, then the reigning NCAA champions, in the round of 16.
“That’s what we talk about, be ready for your opportunity, be ready for your chance,” Maryland Coach Brenda Frese said. “I’m not surprised in the fact that Laurin’s had really good practices for us these last couple weeks and really showed I thought tremendous toughness. That’s what we’ve got to be able to have in games with the depth that we have.”
Maryland had 10 players log double-digit minutes against the Black Knights. That deep rotation allowed Thomas, among others, to get some much welcomed rest during the regular season. Last season, Thomas averaged a career-high 34.2 minutes per game with the Terrapins missing Mincy and point guard Brene Moseley, who tore her ACL as well.
Texas (22-11) also has plenty of depth, with 10 players averaging at least 10.5 minutes and three players averaging at least 10.3 points per game The Longhorns had 10 players with least a dozen minutes in a 79-61 victory over Penn in Sunday’s other first-round game at Comcast Center.
Texas is among the few teams in the country that can outdo the Terrapins in terms of height in the front court. Sophomore center Imani McGee-Stafford is listed at 6 feet 7, freshman center Kelsey Lang is 6-5, and senior forward GiGi Mazionyte is 6-2.
“You’ve just got to battle on the inside,” Maryland senior starting center Alicia DeVaughn said. “I mean they’re a big, huge team compared to us. We just can’t fall mentally for that. We’ve just got to come out and play and be physical.”