The Maryland women’s basketball team finally was back on the court Friday afternoon, nearly two weeks since its last game and four days after the disappointment of learning it was a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament’s Bridgeport Region.
Rested and determined to prove the selection committee misjudged their body of work in seeding them that low, the Terrapins made certain No. 14 seed Bucknell didn’t stand a chance at an upset, pulling away in the first half to secure a 103-61 win in a first-round tournament game at Xfinity Center.
Fourth-ranked Maryland (31-2) advances to the second round to face No. 6 seed West Virginia, a 75-62 winner over 11th-seeded Elon, on Sunday for a berth in the regional semifinals in Bridgeport, Conn., where possible matchups with second-seeded Duke and Connecticut, the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, await.
Seniors Brionna Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough led the way against the Bison (27-6), combining for 53 points in pushing Maryland to a seventh consecutive appearance in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Jones and Walker-Kimbrough, two of the most decorated players in program history, are set to play their final game home Sunday.
“I thought obviously we were led by our two seniors,” Maryland Coach Brenda Frese said. “When you talk about that experience factor, that’s what you have to be able to have especially for your first NCAA tournament game. They started out [scoring] the first 20 points. No surprise there in terms of setting the tone. It allowed our younger players to kind of get comfortable.”
The Terrapins won their fifth straight game, reached 100 points for the seventh time this season and improved to 16-3 in the NCAA tournament at Xfinity Center. They are 22-4 all time in the NCAA tournament overall in College Park and will be seeking redemption in their next game after losing in the second round last season to Washington, 74-65.
The difference against Bucknell was a pair of first-half runs, including 15-4 to close the second quarter. Jones and Walker-Kimbrough combined for 10 of those points, with each converting on a conventional three-point play. By the time junior guard Kristen Confroy scored on a layup, Maryland had opened a 45-20 lead with 35 seconds to play.
The lead expanded to 53-24 shortly after halftime on heels of an 8-2 burst, with Jones and Walker-Kimbrough scoring all of Maryland’s points. Walker-Kimbrough finished with a game-high 28 points, one short of her season best, on 12-for-18 shooting with five steals.
Jones made 11 of 17 shots, including seven of her final eight field goal attempts, and added 10 rebounds for her 23rd double-double this season. She added four steals and two blocks.
“Those two just completely took over,” Bison Coach Aaron Roussell said of Jones and Walker-Kimbrough, “and we didn’t have an answer, to be honest with you.”
The Terrapins shot 58 percent and committed five turnovers, their fewest in a game this season. Maryland also owned a 60-20 margin on points in the paint, 23-3 in points off turnovers and 14-0 on fast-break points. They trailed for only 55 seconds and went ahead for good on Jones’s layup early in the first quarter as part of a 10-0 burst.
With the Terrapins trapping Bucknell at half court on multiple trips in the first quarter, Walker-Kimbrough had two steals during a flurry that both led to uncontested layups, including her fifth field goal of the quarter for a 17-7 advantage with 4:04 to play. Maryland wound up with 13 steals, its most since collecting 17 during an 89-40 victory over Wisconsin on Feb. 15.
“As a team, we wanted to come out and make [Bucknell] feel our presence,” Walker-Kimbrough said. “We’re very, very versatile, especially with this group of talented freshmen we have this year, just coming in and throwing different waves at them. I thought our bench was great today.”
Every active player on the roster scored and had at least one rebound in Maryland’s third-highest-scoring game this season.
The Terrapins led 22-10 after the first quarter despite Jones uncharacteristically misfiring on a handful of from close range. Jones entered as the Division I leader in field goal shooting at a fraction below 70 percent and had missed four shots combined in her two most recent games in the Big Ten tournament semifinals and championship game.
Bucknell, which shot 37 percent, had two players, Sune Swart and Megan McGurk, score in double figures with 14 and 12 points, respectively. The Bison qualified for NCAA tournament after winning the Patriot League tournament final Sunday over Navy and were the third Patriot League champion in six seasons to play Maryland in the first round.
The Terrapins won those three games by an average of 32 points.
“The number doesn’t change who we are as a team,” freshman point guard Destiny Slocum (five points, game-high seven assists) said of Maryland’s seeding. “As long as we go out there and do what we have to do, that’s what’s going to get us the farthest.”