The campuses of Georgetown and Maryland are 12½ miles apart — or about 90 minutes, depending on traffic — but the distance between the schools’ women’s basketball programs is shrinking. In these parts, the Terrapins, their rafters replete with banners, their resume stuffed with titles that include a national championship in 2006, have long been the team to beat.
So that’s what Georgetown did, decisively. The Hoyas drubbed Maryland, 79-57, Tuesday night in a second-round NCAA tournament game. They did it on the Terps’ home court, with Georgetown’s most famous basketball face, John Thompson Jr., looking on. They did it with a tight press and scrappy defense and some otherworldly shooting from sophomore guard Sugar Rodgers, who finished with a season-high 34 points.
And they did it with attitude. The Hoyas have that in abundance, and they made it perfectly clear this past week that they’re tired of being regarded as the second-best team in town. One problem: Before this season, they were 0-8 against Maryland. So to change that second-best perception, they needed to beat the Terps.
So they did it, not once but twice, first back in November at McDonough Arena, and again Tuesday night at Comcast Center. Their reward: a second-ever berth in the Sweet 16 — and a date with top-ranked Connecticut (34-1) on Sunday in Philadelphia.
“I told you we weren’t scared,” said Georgetown Coach Terri Williams-Flournoy, beaming.
While both teams at least pretended not to look past their respective first-round opponents, it was obvious since the bracket was announced that they were itching to take on each other. Tuesday night, there were a few early displays of gamesmanship. When the Maryland women took the court for their final warmup, they split into two lines, with half the players running down one sideline and the other half crossing under Georgetown’s basket and running up the other sideline.
When the Terps lined up for the national anthem, the crowd arose . . . and waited. The Hoyas weren’t on the court. As the partisan crowd chanted for the Terps, a Georgetown official went in search of the team. The players ran out, lined up for the anthem, shook hands with the Terps — and headed right back to the locker room.
That must have been some game plan, because Georgetown came out swinging. Maryland won the opening tip, but while the Terps’ Anjale Barrett was still holding the ball, Georgetown’s Monica McNutt knocked it loose and got the ball to Rodgers, whose three-pointer was the first of seven on the night. The Hoyas were off and running to an 11-0 lead.
“We came out with an agenda,” said McNutt, who mentioned President Obama picking Princeton to beat the Hoyas in the first round as one incentive. “We believe in ourselves. We have a chip on our shoulders. We have something to prove.”
Maryland, in contrast, seemed rattled — committing turnovers, shooting air balls, missing free throws. At one point, when the Terps failed to go after a loose ball, Brenda Frese stomped her feet so hard her spike heels nearly went through the Comcast Center hardwood. Maryland finally scored with 14 minutes 43 seconds remaining in the half when Natasha Cloud hit a free throw to cut the lead to 11-1. They battled back to a 14-all tie before Georgetown pulled ahead and stayed there. The Hoyas led by 14 at intermission — exactly the number of points they scored off Maryland turnovers in the first half — and by as many as 24 in the second half.
The Terps have one of the youngest rosters in the country and it showed. Combine poor passing with Georgetown’s smothering defense and it’s easy to see how the Terps committed 29 turnovers in their first meeting this season. Tuesday night they reduced that number to 20. But the Hoyas shot 52 percent from three-point range and 86 percent from the free throw line.
“They had a sensational night shooting the basketball,” Frese said. “Credit Georgetown. They made tremendous plays.”
The two programs came into this game evenly matched. Georgetown had won 23 games, Maryland 24. The Hoyas were a No. 5 seed, the Terps No. 4. Both had easy first-round wins Sunday at Comcast Center. Both teams are young — Maryland has 10 freshmen and sophomores and no seniors; Georgetown will lose one senior starter, McNutt. Maryland has a more resonant resume — 19 NCAA tournament appearances to Georgetown’s three, not to mention all those banners — but anything that happened before last year seems like ancient history to college kids.
So was this decisive victory a statement by the Hoyas?
“We’re not supposed to say that it is,” Williams-Flournoy said, “but it is.”
And that’s that. The local playing field has officially been leveled. The Hoyas talked the talk and then walked the walk — all over the Terps’ home court, all the way into the region semifinals. Both teams will remember this game when they next meet, this fall in College Park. Buckle up. This is about to get good.