The Maryland Terrapins have not one thing to be ashamed of after last night’s contest against the reigning champion Uconn Huskies. The Terps didn’t play their best game, caused more than a few self inflicted wounds and still had a chance late. The game went down to the wire despite Connecticut trying to put Maryland away twice. The fight from Maryland was extremely impressive, even more so was the way a couple of their freshmen responded in such a tough contest.
“It is the most points they have given up to a team in years. So a lot of positive things we can build on. I think defensively, we saw a lot of breakdowns. This is an area that I am excited about, an area that we can really grow and improve on. “I just think that for us we are not afraid of the name on the jersey. I think that that is three-fourths of the battle.” – Brenda Frese, Maryland Head Coach
“Given the circumstances and the way the game played out, with all the issues we had, this is probably the best win we’ve had up to this point this season.” – Geno Auriema, Uconn Head Coach
Brionna Jones had a monster night and would have caused even more damage if it weren’t for foul trouble and Maryland got just 10 points from Shatori Walker-Kimbrough who was obviously a target for the Uconn defense. They knew they couldn’t slow Jones so they did the next best thing and tried to keep SWK from having a big or even her typical impact on the game. This isn’t to say she played terrible, but by her high standards, it wasn’t one of her best outings. Junior Kristen Confory struggled as well, the sharp shooter had a few good looks, all shots she normally knocks down and just missed. The Terps shot just 5-20 from deep, had 14 turnovers, shot just 29% in the first quarter and still had an opportunity to win late.
The big picture is, is that it is December 29th and we learned a lot about our team tonight, about our freshman, who were sensational. We don’t even need to call them freshman because they were so confident. We will learn a lot from this and use it to help us move forward and be ready for March.” – Brenda Frese, Maryland Head Coach
It’s never easy to take a loss, but the Terrapins have plenty to be proud of, some things to work on and will only get better from here. For the second straight year, they pushed the Champs all the way to the wire.
“I thought playing here was going to be extremely difficult because of the way they play. They are so aggressive and so athletic and they just come in waves. They just keep coming at you and coming at you. They were playing the number one team in the country so everything that happened, except us getting up 19, I expected to happen. I expected it to be that kind of game, but I didn’t think we would get to 19. When we did get to 19, all I kept thinking about was it was going to get to two. – Geno Auriema, Uconn Head Coach
That being said, here are my takeaways or observations from last night’s game from a Maryland standpoint.
Brionna Jones. The Huskies literally had no answer for her for the second straight year, she is arguably the best post player in the country and played like it last night. Foul trouble aside, she had a big night with 19 points and 13 rebounds in just 19 minutes. If she played 30 minutes, she may have eclipsed 20-20 against the Huskies. Her presence on both ends of the floor steadies Maryland, when she was out it definitely affected them a bit. It’s clear that Connecticut didn’t have any answers for Jones and that’ll certainly be an issue should they meet again. Geno heaped praise on the talented center, “Nobody in the country can defend her.” He’s right.
Fearless Freshmen. The Terps had the highest rated recruiting class coming into this season, those youngsters have gotten minutes in every game this season. That wasn’t the case against Uconn, as expected the rotation as a whole shortened a bit, the four players that came off the bench played a combined 21 minutes with Soph Brianna Fraser getting 13 of them. That put the onus on Kaila Charles and Destiny Slocum, especially with Uconn focusing on limiting Walker-Kimbrough’s impact on the game. Both Kaila Charles and Destiny Slocum played key roles in this contest, combining for 41 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists, and 5 steals. There were a few mistakes here and there, but during the closing stretch of the game and during their rallies, the kids showed up.
Kaila Charles. The Maryland Native was incredible in this contest, in a conversation with us after the game she cited her competitive nature when describing the atmosphere and intensity of the game. From opening tip, she didn’t look like a freshman. She played like an experienced upperclassman, yes there were a couple of turnovers but, overall she was nothing short of phenomenal. She finished with 18 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 steals. Her athleticism, size, and ability to attack off the bounce really put pressure on Connecticut and they struggled to contain her. When Maryland got off to a slow start in the first quarter, it was her keeping them alive by scoring 8 of the teams 12 points. She’s going to be a matchup problem for many teams at that power forward position as she’s a hybrid, she’ll only get better as the season goes on.
Destiny Slocum. Like her fellow fellow classmate, she played big against Uconn. It’s very tough to play in that type of environment as a freshman and even tougher as a point guard. Despite her five turnovers, Slocum had a big game against the Huskies. Her 23 points were timely, she also had 7 assists and 4 rebounds. The Terps typically shoot the three well, Walker-Kimbrough and Confroy are good shooters, but they went a combined 0-for-7 from distance. Destiny hit all five of her team’s three pointers (5-for-20), with three of them coming in the fourth quarter while Maryland was trying to rally. Like Charles, she was able to put pressure on the Connecticut defense. She’s already established herself as one of the better point guards in the country and like Kaila, she’ll only get better going forward. Coach Brenda Frese has done a wonderful job of letting her play through mistakes, learning on the fly.
Resiliency. Maryland is not going to be an easy out, definitely don’t anticipate them having an early exit in this year’s NCAA tournament. It’s a different type of team than last year, not to say that last year’s group was mentally weak. The influx of talent and size gives them a different feel, especially with the duo of Seniors and Freshmen in the starting lineup. They all complement each other well, Shatori mentioned that she didn’t look at the youngsters as “freshmen” early in the season at media day, saying that she sees them as “new players.” It’s one thing to say it, it’s another to trust in them in a big time game against Uconn. With the Huskies clearly focusing on taking her out of the game, she didn’t force things and kept the ball moving, making plays for others with 5 assists. Jones did the same, trusting in her fellow teammates when she was in the game to find her and make the right decisions. Mostly every other team in the country would have wilted down 19 to the Huskies and Maryland wouldn’t do it. They just continued to fight, they seem to have earned the respect of Auriema who heaped praise on Maryland during his post game press conference. The Terps will be just fine going forward, they showed the entire country that they have what it takes to give Uconn fits and put themselves in position to win despite not playing up to their standards.