RALEIGH, N.C. — For most college basketball teams, playing catch-up isn’t exactly a blueprint for winning. For the fifth-ranked Maryland women, it’s when they thrive.
That doesn’t mean Terrapins Coach Brenda Frese prefers to be behind, but the results are indisputable when her charges are faced with substantial deficits. Maryland’s latest offering came in an 81-74 victory over Texas A&M, in which the No. 2 seed erased an 18-point shortfall to advance to the region final for the fourth time in Frese’s 10 seasons.
Maryland’s reward for ousting the reigning national champions is a date with fourth-ranked Notre Dame, the top seed in the Raleigh Region, on Tuesday night at PNC Arena. It’s a game in which players and coaches suspect they’ll trail at least at some point, which suits the Terrapins just fine.
“I mean honestly, I’ve never been part of anything like this,” said senior center Lynetta Kizer, whose layup with 3 minutes 29 seconds left put Maryland ahead to stay against the Aggies. “You talk about 18 points [against Texas A&M], you talk 20 points against Georgia Tech, and the fact that we believe in each other so much, it’s indescribable.”
In the Georgia Tech game Jan. 6 at Comcast Center, Maryland (31-4) trailed, 56-36, with 17:39 remaining. Then, ACC player of the year Alyssa Thomas went to work, scoring 18 of her 24 points to close out the game, including a three-point play with 17 seconds left in regulation for a 77-74 victory.
Three days later on the road against North Carolina, the Terrapins rallied from six points down with 1:29 to play to force overtime before securing a 78-72 victory.
Again Thomas was the centerpiece, collecting a game-high 24 points and scoring on a reverse layup as time expired in regulation.
In Maryland’s most memorable regular season win, the Terrapins trailed arch rival Duke by 12 points with 12 minutes remaining in the first half.
After Maryland pulled ahead to stay on junior forward Tianna Hawkins’s layup in the last half-minute, Thomas blocked Haley Peters’s three-point attempt to preserve a 63-61 victory in front of 15,150 at Comcast Center.
The result ended the Blue Devils’ 17-game ACC winning streak.
“Pretty much it’s defense,” senior guard Anjale Barrett said of the conversations in the huddle when Maryland is behind by a considerable margin. “Defense and rebounding, that’s what gets us back in games. And just staying together, just talking to the team say, ‘We’re right there. Stay together. Get a couple stops.’ ”
Barrett went 4 for 4 from the free throw line in the final 1:06 of overtime against North Carolina, and her basket with just more than a minute left put Maryland ahead to stay in a 68-65 victory over Georgia Tech in the ACC championship game.
The Terrapins had trailed the Yellow Jackets by four with a little more than 12 minutes to play on the way to their 10th ACC tournament title, the most in conference history.
Maryland has been behind in each of its past five games during this 10-game winning streak. It’s the most victories in a row for the Terrapins this season since they opened by winning their first 16.
Maryland also has won 13 times in its last 14 games. Its only loss during that stretch was to Miami, 76-74, at Comcast Center on Feb. 12.
The Terrapins led the majority of that game before the Hurricanes, who trailed by six with six minutes to play, went ahead by a point with 39 seconds to go.
“As you advance in each round, you can’t continue to play from 18 down, game in and game out,” Frese said. “But I think the biggest thing for this team is we don’t lose our poise. We don’t freak out if we’re down because we’ve been there and done that. We just try to chip away, stay focused on possessions one at a time. I think that’s been key for us. As long as we’re not rattled as a coaching staff and we’re under control, I think our kids do a good job following our lead.”
Maryland note: Hawkins is expected to start against Notre Dame (33-3) after missing the final seven minutes against Texas A&M. The NCAA leader in field goal percentage (.628) and the team’s top rebounder (9.2) fell hard under the basket in the Terrapins’ offensive end but said Monday morning she felt fine.
Frese said Hawkins, who finished with 12 points and five rebounds in 26 minutes, could have gone back in the game but that the rotation she had on the court against the Aggies was clicking at that point.