A week and a half ago, Maryland Head Coach Brenda Frese said that she wasn't worried about the effect a two-week lay-off could have on her team in its first round NCAA Tournament game. Her team would be ready to go, she said then. But it turned out the Terps might have been just a little too anxious by the time tip-off rolled around.
I thought walking into pre-game practice that this team was ready to play, and if anything I think we were too excited. she said. We looked a little rusty from our break since the ACC Tournament.
Despite the jittery start, the second-seeded Terps were eventually able to harness their excitement and play the way they needed to, leading to a 59-44 win over the No. 15 seed Navy Midshipmen.
The Terps' over-anxiousness led to several easy baskets being missed early on, and the Midshipmen were able to take advantage. A three-pointer by Audrey Bauer put them up 8-4 five minutes in, and undersized Navy continued to battle head-to-head with Maryland, tying the game at 17 with 6:31 left in the first half.
It appeared that the Midshipmen were going to try to beat the Terps from the outside, shooting 13 threes in the first half and making five of them. However, the biggest three-pointers of the game belonged to the Terps, who made three in a row within two minutes to give Maryland a nine-point lead with less than five minutes left in the first half. The first two belonged to Kim Rodgers, followed by one by Brene Moseley as the two provided a run that Frese called critical to opening the game up.
I think being able to come in and provide a spark off the bench, which is what Bones [Brene Moseley] and I did, really helps to sort of get things going if there's a lull in the game, said Rodgers.
Yet one thing was still missing from Maryland's offense: Alyssa Thomas. Thomas struggled to score in the first half, uncharacteristically missing several shots inside. Frese thought her star sophomore was trying too hard, and told her so at halftime.
Coach B challenged me and told me I needed to calm down and come out and make plays, so I slowed myself down and focused out there, said Thomas.
I knew at breakfast when I asked her how she slept last night and she said 'Not good,' that she was too amped up, said Frese. The coaching staff thought I was a little too hard on her [at halftime], but I thought I was just right.
Thomas responded to her coach's challenge with 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting in the second half, including the 1,000th point of her career. She is the 27th Maryland player to reach that plateau, and the second-fastest, just three games behind Crystal Langhorne.
Navy Head Coach Stefanie Pemper said her team had a hard time staying with the ACC Player of the Year.
There was a time where we had a hard time guarding number 25 [Thomas], she said. [Navy's game plan against her] was just to try to stay with her
she does such a nice job of posting and in transition.
One thing Navy was able to do was battle with the bigger and stronger Terps inside. Despite their size advantage, Maryland post players Tianna Hawkins and Alicia DeVaughn combined for just 11 points and 12 rebounds. Meanwhile, Navy sophomore Jade Geif scored 14 for the Midshipmen on 7-for-10 shooting.
I'm proud of our rebounding, said Pemper. We played hard against them, but they were a lot bigger and more athletic.
Geif had 10 of her points in the second half, but it wouldn't be enough to stop the Terps. Behind Thomas and fellow sophomore Laurin Mincy, Maryland was able to get out in transition more in the second half and really started pushing the ball up the floor at every chance it got. The result was a lead that grew to as much as 21 before the eventual 15-point margin of victory.
I thought the second half was more indicative of how we play, with letting the game come to us, the smiles that were on the court, sharing the basketball, and defending, said Frese. We're just very excited to be able to advance and move on.
Thomas grabbed 10 rebounds and had four assists to go along with her game-high 17 points, while Mincy scored 14 and had six rebounds. Anjale Barrett added four assists and six rebounds, and Alicia DeVaughn had seven rebounds.
With the win, Maryland now advances to the second round, where they will face the winner of No. 7 seed Louisville and No. 10 seed Michigan State on Monday night at Comcast Center. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. The winner goes on to play in Raleigh, N.C. in the Sweet Sixteen.