The members of the ninth-ranked Maryland women’s basketball team were back on the practice court early Tuesday afternoon, less than 12 hours after their most rugged game of the season. Players moved around a bit more gingerly than normal, and even all-American forward Alyssa Thomas, who rarely gives any quarter, admitted the short-handed bunch was feeling the repercussions from going toe-to-toe with No. 2 Connecticut in a 63-48 loss on Monday night in Hartford, Conn.
With an active roster of eight players and a regular rotation of seven following a series of injuries, the Terrapins provided tense moments for their undefeated opponent, which had been accustomed to pulling away early and winning by staggering amounts.
The Huskies’ average margin of victory entering Monday night was nearly 49 points per game, but Maryland got within seven with 13 minutes to play, and it took clutch baskets from the seven-time national champions to win the first game between the schools.
“A little beat up,” said Thomas, who finished with six points on 2-for-12 shooting with seven rebounds, four assists and eight turnovers against Connecticut. “A very physical game.”
The Terrapins (4-2) have precious little recovery time before beginning their ACC schedule on Thursday night against Virginia at Comcast Center. It’s an especially early clash between the rivals because this season, the ACC has expanded to an 18-game conference schedule. It’s an increase of two games from last season and four from 2010-11.
While men’s basketball coaches such as Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski have said they favor such a move, the general feeling among the women’s coaches has been almost anything but. Especially vocal was Sylvia Hatchell, the longtime women’s coach at North Carolina who contends the competition in the ACC is so formidable that teams essentially would eliminate one another from NCAA tournament consideration.
Last season, the ACC got four teams into the NCAA tournament, including Maryland, which advanced to the region final before losing to future conference member Notre Dame, 80-49. North Carolina and Virginia, meantime, failed to make the NCAA tournament despite winning at least 20 games each.
Virginia (5-2) lost to Maryland three times last season, including 70-58 in the first round of the ACC tournament in Greensboro, N.C. The teams combined for 32 fouls in that game and 31 in Maryland’s 73-56 triumph in Charlottesville, underscoring the fervid competition between schools separated by roughly 120 miles.
“There’s no question conference play is really physical, and you’re going to ramp that up for 18 games,” Maryland Coach Brenda Frese said. “It is what it is. You can’t change it, and you’ve just got to get your team ready to play.”
For Maryland, that means scaling back the length and intensity of practices to limit fatigue as much as possible during games. The Terrapins had five players log at least 30 minutes on Monday night, with freshman Chloe Pavlech on the floor for a game-high 38 minutes.
Pavlech has become the starting point guard in place of sophomore Brene Moseley, who tore her anterior cruciate ligament on Oct. 21 in a scrimmage. Junior Laurin Mincy, Maryland’s second-leading scorer last season, tore her ACL during a 90-71 victory over then-No. 21 Nebraska on Nov. 28 in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and also is out for the season.
“We just have to continue to play hard,” Frese said. “But so does Virginia. Virginia plays as hard defensively, and they’re having a terrific season, so it’ll be a difficult matchup for both teams.”