HARTFORD, Conn. — It was going to be demanding enough for the ninth-ranked Maryland women’s basketball team to come to XL Center, the second home court to No. 2 Connecticut, and prove a match for the seven-time NCAA champions with a full complement of players, much less with the starting back court unavailable because of injury.
Then consider three of the eight members of the Terrapins’ active roster are freshmen, and there was every reason to believe the proceedings would get out of hand in short time on Monday night before 11,645.
Maryland instead pushed Connecticut throughout, and although the Terrapins wound up on the short end, 63-48, in a game that was part of the Jimmy V Classic, they left with positive feelings after a performance that had Coach Brenda Frese smiling.
“C’mon, how many of you didn’t think we had a chance in this game tonight?” Frese said to open her postgame news conference.
With point guard Brene Moseley and shooting guard Laurin Mincy watching from the bench with torn anterior cruciate ligaments that cut short their seasons, the Terrapins (4-2) clamped down defensively from tip-off to stay within reach and whittled the margin to seven points with 12 minutes 59 second left in the game.
But the Huskies (7-0) countered with a three-pointer by freshman Brianna Banks, a three-point play from junior Bria Hartley and sophomore center Kiah Stokes’s field goal for all the separation they needed to remain unbeaten and among the favorites to win another national title.
“They were pretty resilient in their own right,” Connecticut Coach Geno Auriemma said of the Terrapins following the first game between the schools. “And they made some shots, some runners and a couple things, that I think when those go in, you get a little bit of confidence.”
Freshman point guard Chloe Pavlech was especially productive in that regard, scoring a season-high 10 points on 5-for-10 shooting with three assists and two steals. Senior center Tianna Hawkins scored 14 points to match a game high, collected a game-high 10 rebounds and added two assists for the Terrapins, who limited Connecticut to season lows in a handful of meaningful statistical categories.
The Huskies shot 38 percent after not going below 50 over their first six games, finished with 18 fewer points than their previous low and won by their narrowest margin of the season — their next-closest game was an 81-50 win over then-No. 16 Texas A&M on Nov. 18.
Junior center Stefanie Dolson led Connecticut, which used 10 players, with 14 points and eight rebounds, and freshman forward Breanna Stewart had 13 points and six rebounds. Banks was the only other Huskies player to reach double figures with 11 points on 4-for-7 shooting.
Connecticut’s Kelly Faris contributed eight points and seven assists with no turnovers and played exceptional defense on all-American Alyssa Thomas©. The ACC player of the year missed 10 of 12 shots and finished with six points, seven rebounds and four assists. She also committed eight of Maryland’s 26 turnovers, 18 of which came in the first half.
The Huskies also overwhelmed Maryland on points in the paint, 32-16, but the Terrapins managed to come out ahead in rebounding, 39-35, despite their limited resources.
“You can just tell on our faces we’re not disappointed in how we played,” Thomas said. “We’re the first team to actually give U-Conn. a game, and they’ve played 10 players all year. I’m absolutely proud of my team competing with U-Conn., and I know we’ll see them again.”