INDIANAPOLIS — When the Maryland women’s basketball team’s latest thriller was finally done, Kaila Charles jammed her clenched fists straight down by her side, turned on a heel to sprint downcourt to join her teammates in celebration and let out a guttural scream along the way.
This was not a normal reaction from the calm, cool Terrapins, who are accustomed to competing for Big Ten tournament championships, having played in every title game since they joined the conference in 2014. On another day, this reaction might have been a little over the top for an ending that came down to a flubbed inbounds pass.
But the celebration after top-seeded Maryland’s 73-72 win over No. 4 seed Michigan on Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse was fitting for a milestone victory.
Not only did the Terrapins advance to the title game, where they will play No. 2 seed Iowa for a chance at their fourth championship in five years, but Maryland also secured its 1,000th victory in program history.
The win puts them in rarefied air alongside just 11 other Division I women’s programs, including Tennessee (1,363), Connecticut (1,136), Stanford (1,086) and a pair of programs from Virginia: James Madison (1,118) and Old Dominion (1,059).
“It speaks volumes of the University of Maryland, the program and the legacy,” said Coach Brenda Frese, who passed a career milestone this season in clocking her 500th win. “I can’t say enough about the two coaches before me with Dottie McKnight and Chris Weller, who set the bar and set the standard for me to follow. It’s all of us that have continued that tradition, the great tradition that we have here at Maryland. . . . To be able to own a milestone like this is pretty special.”
Maryland’s latest thriller — two of its final three games of the regular season also came down to nail-biting finishes — ended on a poor inbounds pass from Michigan in what amounted to an anti-climactic finish to an intense game that featured four lead changes in the final 2:30.
Despite the frenzied finish, Frese and her assistants looked relaxed in the final seconds, even as the Terps trailed the Wolverines by a point with 21 seconds remaining. Frese, for all the stomping and snapping she usually does on the sideline during games, stood calmly with her arms crossed.
“There was never any panic from anybody. Between players, coaches, we’ve been in these situations so many times that there’s actually just a calming, peaceful, collective mind-set of what we need to do,” Frese said. “I think that’s obviously because we’ve been through so many intense games this season; the conference has prepared us with so many great teams.”
Having Charles on your team helps a coach stay calm as well. The junior led the team with 22 points and six rebounds, and she scored the final six points for Maryland (28-3), including a pair of free throws with 10 seconds remaining that put the Terps up for good.
Maryland’s defense then forced Michigan to take about eight seconds off the clock before Frese called a timeout after Shakira Austin deflected Amy Dilk’s layup attempt for her third block of the game. Out of the timeout, Maryland’s pressure forced Michigan into a bad inbounds pass that skidded along the center of the lane as the buzzer sounded.
“I had all the faith in my team. We’ve been playing for Bri all season, and we want to send her out the right way,” Charles said, referring to Brianna Fraser, Maryland’s lone senior. “I had faith, and I think they did too. We all believed that we could win.”
Maryland survived thanks to its aggressive defense and solid contributions from the team’s biggest scorers. In addition to Charles’s 22 points, Blair Watson had 14, including four three-pointers, and Stephanie Jones added 12.
The Terps also got much-needed help from point guard Channise Lewis, who had her best game against a Big Ten opponent with 10 points to match a season high she set at South Carolina. A steadying force in the second half, especially in the face of Michigan’s press, Lewis also dished six assists.
“Going into the half I was on the bench for foul trouble, so I definitely saw what we could change going into the third quarter,” Lewis said. “I had to be more aggressive going off screens, more aggressive to the hole, and it was just opening up for me because there was more focus on everyone else on the team. That helped me out.”
Maryland went into intermission trailing 40-37 and appeared poised to seize control in the third by outscoring Michigan by 12 in the period. But Michigan’s Nicole Munger (20 points) made a pair of three-pointers early in the fourth quarter.
The Wolverines (21-11) came into Saturday’s game — their first Big Ten tournament semifinal appearance since 2001 — on a hot streak, having won nine of 10.
“They gave us their best shot,” Watson said. “At the end of the day we came out and got the dub.”
Note: Austin notched another milestone for Maryland: Her 82 blocks broke the program’s single-season record of 80 set by Kris Kirchner in 1979.