LOUISVILLE — For much of the Maryland women's basketball game against Louisville on Thursday night, Destiny Slocum played with all the trepidation of an unsure freshman rather than a McDonald's all-American.
Slocum's performance over the final minutes proved otherwise. In a 78-72 triumph over the No. 7 Cardinals, the centerpiece of Frese's top-ranked recruiting class scored seven straight points to lift Maryland in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Her three-point play with 1:53 left in the game provided a 72-67 lead after Maryland (7-0) had gone ahead for good on a layup from freshman guard Kaila Charles, another McDonald's all-American.
Slocum made four straight free throws thereafter, and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough’s two foul shots with 4.6 seconds to play produced the final margin in Maryland’s third consecutive victory over the Cardinals (6-2).
“That’s what makes Destiny so special, that she can erase what’s happened in the past and just stay in the present,” Frese said. “Man, she was just tremendous in terms of just the fearlessness and the confidence and the energy we were able to feed of off.”
Slocum finished with 13 points, five rebounds and four assists but had three of the Terrapins’ 18 turnovers in front of an announced crowd of 7,816. Before making her final field goal and going 5 for 5 from the foul line in the closing stages, Slocum had missed 5 of 7 shots and was 1 for 4 on free throws.
Walker-Kimbrough scored a season-high 26 points, making 8 of 15 from the field. The senior is one of two Terrapins on the roster who played the last time Maryland made an appearance at KFC Yum! Center on April 1, 2014, beating Louisville, 76-73, in an NCAA tournament regional final.
“It was a great team win,” Walker-Kimbrough said of the latest result. “I thought we got challenged down the stretch. I thought we handled it really well starting with Destiny. I thought she handled the pressure really well. She stayed poised, and we followed her lead.”
Ahead by nine to start the fourth quarter, Maryland came undone briefly with sloppy possessions. The Cardinals, meanwhile, came storming back courtesy of those turnovers to claim a 64-62 lead with 5:39 to go in regulation on Briahanna Jackson’s difficult driving layup to cap an 11-0 run.
Maryland’s first field goal in the fourth quarter didn’t come until Walker-Kimbrough’s lay-in with 5:20 to play. Slocum made 1 of 2 free throws to reclaim the lead for Maryland at 65-64 before the Cardinals moved ahead for the last time at 67-65 on Myisha Hines-Allen’s three-point play with 3:15 remaining the fourth quarter.
The Terrapins had to weather the large majority of the second half without leading rebounder and second-leading scorer Brionna Jones because of foul trouble. The senior center, the other player who appeared in Maryland’s last game at this venue, picked up her third foul 22 seconds into the half, drawing a reprimand from Frese as she came to the bench.
Still, Maryland was able to forge its first double-digit lead even with the two-time first-team all-Big Ten selection out of the game. Charles scored the first basket of the flurry with a reverse layup, and junior guard Kristen Confroy (six points, 11 rebounds) made a three-pointer off an assist from Slocum. Confroy initially had kept the play alive with an offensive rebound.
The lead was 53-43 with 4:38 left in the third quarter thanks to consecutive field goals from Charles, last season’s Washington Post All-Met Girls’ Player of the Year from Riverdale Baptist.
Maryland led by eight late in the first half thanks to an 8-2 burst. Half of those points came from the foul line, but the Cardinals trimmed the deficit to 42-38 at intermission on Jackson’s layup and Asia Durr’s jumper.
Trailing by six after Louisville’s Hines-Allen’s jumper to open the second quarter, the Terrapins stormed back with 10 in a row. Jones (16 points, 12 rebounds) sank a layup to get it going, and younger sister Stephanie Jones made 1 of 2 free throws. Walker-Kimbrough got into the lane for a layup while being fouled and made the bonus, and she made a jumper moments later.
Maryland bumped its advantage to 30-26 when Brionna Jones scored on another layup, but Durr’s three-pointer after a Louisville timeout drew the Cardinals within a point.
“It’s lack of effort,” Louisville Coach Jeff Walz, an assistant to Frese when Maryland won the national championship in 2006, said of his team’s second loss in a row. “If we don’t figure out this in a hurry, it’s going to be games like this where we can’t close out because we’re not tough enough to sprint the floor and come up with a stop.”