A classic. The atmosphere was electric in the Xfinity Center last night, it felt like an NCAA Tournament game in December. There were many on Christmas Day that felt the NBA gave one of the greatest gifts in the Cavaliers-Warriors matchup. If that felt like an NBA Finals game or at worst, an NBA Playoff game, than last night was in that company as well. Regardless of it being a home game for the Maryland Terrapins, they went 12 rounds with the reigning National Champion Connecticut Huskies. Falling 86-81 in what easily felt like a Final Four matchup or possibly a National Championship preview. It was not only a great contest for the sport of Womens Basketball, but basketball overall. If you missed it, definitely missed something special.
The easy headline or lazy headline would be that Uconn won it’s 87th consecutive game, their last streak of this magnitude stopped at 90. In the last two seasons, Maryland has given the Huskies the most problems. Last year in Madison Square Garden, Uconn had to rely on it’s championship mettle to pull away late and hold on for a 10 point victory. While both programs have different rosters and players stepping up into different roles, one thing didn’t change, they fought each other tooth and nail the entire game.
Connecticut is a bit smaller this season after losing last year’s big three, that meant they were going to have trouble with Maryland’s Brionna Jones. Arguably the best post player in the country, Jones gave Uconn fits last year, scoring 24 points. She was just as deadly this go round, with 19 points and 13 rebounds. Connecticut’s blessing was that she got in foul trouble, on a few questionable calls at that. She demands a double team and they couldn’t afford to leave Maryland’s shooters to dig down and help in the post.
The Terps started slow, with a couple of sloppy possessions on both ends of the floor as Uconn raced to a 20-12 lead after the first quarter. Freshman Kaila Charles was special in this contest, she scored 8 of her 18 points in the first quarter. Four turnovers and 29% shooting didn’t help the Terps as Uconn did what they do best, take advantage of opponents mistakes. The champs would shoot 53% from the floor, moving the ball well and at times simply hitting some tough shots.
Basketball is a game of runs and the home team responded with one in the second quarter. The freshmen duo of Charles and Destiny Slocum started connecting to spark that run. Slocum’s handle allowed her to break down her defender and put pressure on the Connecticut defense and find teammates. Maryland’s size really played a factor in their second quarter rally, with Napheesa Collier in foul trouble, Uconn didn’t have a post player that required that type of attention inside. Sophomore Brianna Fraser came in for Maryland and made an immediate impact on the offensive and defensive glass, also challenging shots.
Kia Nurse completed the game’s first four-point play in the period, she was fouled by Kristen Confroy. Two possessions later, Nurse hit another three to push the lead back to nine after Maryland had tied it up at 27. That burst from Uconn resulted in a Maryland timeout, from there the Terps would again respond. They closed the half strong, freshman Blair Watson came in the game and got a steal and layup before the halftime buzzer. Cutting the deficit to just five, 36-31.
Maryland was looking to build off their close to the half to start the third quarter. The Huskies had other ideas, they started the period with a 14-0 run. Nurse got things going with a triple, Collier followed with a layup, Gabby Williams hit a midrange jumpshot and Uconn was off and running. Katie Lous Samuelson got going, scoring 12 of her 23 points in the period. The Huskies were able to push the lead to as many as 19, outscoring the Terps 32-22 in the quarter. Things could have easily gotten worse for the home team as they trailed 68-53 at the end of the quarter.
Connecticut has been known to take a double digit lead and double it, quite often over the course of this win streak. Maryland’s character is what kept that from happening, there’s no quite in this team. Brionna Jones would return to start the fourth quarter, joined by her sister Stephanie at power forward. That lineup with the Jones sisters and Charles in the front court sparked an 8-0 Terrapin run, culminating in a beautiful hi-lo pass from Brionna to Stepahnie. Geno Auriemma called a 30-second timeout.
Samuelson came out of the break and hit a triple to push the lead to 10. That was the start of the teams trading shots, akin to two boxers standing in the middle of the ring and just slugging it out.
Maryland is a good perimeter shooting team, they struggled mightily from that range against Uconn. The lone exception was Destiny Slocum and she picked a great time to hit three of her five three-pointers. The freshman showed no fear, a couple of those shots were a few feet beyond the arc. A layup from Destiny cut the deficit to just six with 1:14 left in the game.
Eerily similar to last year’s bout in the Garden, Saniya Chong hit the dagger. Last year, the Terps had cut the deficit to four when Chong drilled a corner triple. This year the deficit was six and again, Saniya hit a big shot for the Huskies. She scored 10 points in the game and hit her only shot from behind the arc, a dagger. That pushed the lead back to nine.
Maryland kept playing though, having to play the foul game, the Huskies didn’t capitalize on their free throw opportunities as a couple of players split the pair. The Terps countered with a Slocum triple and a Brionna Jones layup. There just wasn’t enough time left, Uconn held on for their 87th consecutive win. They are now 134-1 in their last 135 games. Maryland falls to 12-1, but they have nothing to hang their heads about. It was a heavyweight fight and Maryland proved that they belong in that class. There were several self inflicted wounds, but they continued to fight and definitely showed why they are one of the top teams in the country.