In Saturday's NCAA tournament regional semifinals, No. 1 seed Connecticut's plan was to harass the two-time Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, and the seven-time national champions followed that blueprint with nary a flaw, sending waves of defenders at her.
“I said the other day Connecticut can make really good teams look really bad, and that was on full display today,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. “Obviously we really struggled against their defense. They made it very difficult. They were quicker to loose balls. I thought they were aggressive with their rebounding, but just disappointed overall in how we played.”
Thomas finished with a team-high 13 points and nine rebounds, three assists and two steals, but she missed 12 of 16 field-goal attempts. She had averaged 29 points over her previous four games, all in the postseason, and had not scored fewer than 26 points any of those times.
In the final college basketball game of her career, All-ACC senior forward Tianna Hawkins added 11 points and eight rebounds for the Terps (26-8), who fell one round short of matching their final stop in last season's NCAA tournament and lost to the Huskies for a second straight time after never having played them before this season.
Freshman guard Chloe Pavlech scored 11 points and was the only other Maryland player to reach double figures.
“Honestly, I really wanted to win the game for Tianna,” said an emotional Pavlech, who scored 10 points in a 63-48 loss to the Huskies on Dec. 3 at XL Center in Hartford, Conn. “I didn't want this to be her last game.”
The Terps shot 31 percent, committed twice as many turnovers as Connecticut (16-8) and fell uncharacteristically short in rebounding, 41-36. Maryland came into the game with the second-best rebounding margin in the country (plus-14.3) and outrebounded Connecticut in the first meeting 39-35.
This time Maryland received no points from its reserves, with freshman forward-center Malina Howard and junior guard Sequoia Austin combining to shoot 0-for-7 in 22 minutes. The Huskies, meantime, got 25 bench points and had seven players overall log at least 16 minutes.
“We've beaten a lot of really good teams by a lot of points, so I know how good we can be,” said Huskies coach Geno Auriemma, whose team advances to Monday night's regional final against second-seeded Kentucky, a 69-62 victor over No. 6 seed Delaware in the first semifinal.
Connecticut (32-4), which used runs of 13-3 and 10-0 in the first half to gain separation, had three players score in doubles figures, including Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Breanna Stewart with game highs of 17 points and three steals. Reserve Moriah Jefferson added 10 points on 5-for-8 shooting with three assists and two steals, and center Stefanie Dolson chipped in nine points and a team-high 10 rebounds.
Maryland appeared to sway momentum briefly going into the break when Hawkins aggressively blocked a layup attempt by Kelly Faris.
Officials let the play stand, prompting Auriemma to leap out of his seat and vehemently voice his displeasure.
That tirade led to a technical foul, and Thomas made one of two free throws to trim the margin to 35-24. Moments later, the Terps whittled the deficit to below double figures when Hawkins made a jumper to complete the scoring during a first half in which Maryland was on the short end of virtually every significant statistical category.
The Huskies scored nine points in a row coming out of halftime to all but settle the outcome.
“Even to be down nine to Connecticut in my opinion is too big of a gap,” Frese said. “I thought we would come out of the locker room with a lot more energy, but I actually thought Connecticut, they came in with the knockout punch in the second half. We really struggled to score, and when we couldn't score, then we had a lot of lapses defensively.”bal-terps-women-connecticut-csn-video-20130330