The death knell for the Maryland women’s basketball team’s season probably came in the final 30 seconds of Monday’s tight NCAA tournament second-round game at Xfinity Center. It could have been when junior Blair Watson was called for a foul and Japreece Dean put UCLA up by four points with 24 seconds to play. Or maybe it was the Terrapins’ two missed shots after that, or freshman Shakira Austin’s errant free throw with eight seconds to go.
But ask the third-seeded Terps, and they will say No. 6 seed UCLA’s 85-80 upset was sealed in the first half. The Bruins came out with more energy, more precision and, critically, more aggression on the glass. That lack of firepower from the start — something Maryland struggled with during Big Ten Conference play — had the Terrapins playing catch-up early in the second half and altered the complexion of the game down the stretch.
“We learned a lot,” said Terps guard Kaila Charles, who had a team-high 23 points. “We learned that we can’t come out slow — especially not in the tournament, in March.”
Maryland’s loss marks the first time the Terps have had back-to-back second-round exits in the NCAA tournament since 2004 and 2005, the two years before the team’s national title run.
While UCLA (22-12) advanced to its fourth consecutive Sweet 16, where the Bruins will meet No. 2 seed Connecticut on Friday in Albany, N.Y., Maryland (29-5) was left to a quiet locker room consumed by tears and apologies to the team’s lone senior, Brianna Fraser.
“They were more apologetic than anything, but they really don’t have anything to apologize for,” she said. “They did the best that they could. I said there’s really no need to apologize.”
The Terps return nine of 10 players next year and add four heralded freshmen to give Coach Brenda Frese a full roster for the first time in two seasons — ever since three players, including current Oregon State star Destiny Slocum, transferred from the program in 2017. That prospect allowed Frese as well as juniors Charles and Stephanie Jones to speak optimistically about the team’s future Monday night after the loss.
But the dominant emotion was hurt.
Michaela Onyenwere led the quick, athletic Bruins with 30 points, and Dean, the point guard, had 22, including four three-pointers. Lajahna Drummer had a game-high 12 rebounds, and guard Kennedy Burke added 11 in the category that affected the game the most.
UCLA outrebounded the Terps 47-43 and had 27 offensive boards to Maryland’s 20, allowing the Bruins 27 second-chance points. Those extra possessions wore out the Terps and got them into foul trouble. Jones was limited to 23 minutes by her four fouls, forcing Frese to figure out rotations without the critical junior forward.
Maryland trailed 44-40 at halftime after shooting uncharacteristically poorly from three-point range, leaving Jones as the lone offensive engine. She had all 15 of her points in the first half and 13 of the Terps’ first 16 points.
Maryland’s problems stemmed from that lack of energy and aggression, despite the urging of a crowd of 3,941, by far the loudest and most engaged the Terps have had all year.
“I have a difficult time if we’re not playing with confidence, because we can control that,” Frese said. “That was the [halftime] message: We could play with a lot more toughness, a lot more poise and a lot more energy.”
A 7-0 burst to start the third quarter, fueled by two steals from Austin and two big buckets, including a three-point play from Charles, gave Maryland a 47-44 lead less than a minute into the second half.
“Kaila did everything she could possibly do for us — scratch, claw, and make play after play,” Frese said.
The Terps ended the quarter as well as they started, taking a five-point lead into the final period thanks to a putback from Austin and a layup at the buzzer from Channise Lewis. It was the happiest they looked for the rest of the night.
“It just comes down to who wanted it more,” Jones said, “and I think that it showed.”