Maryland powers past Navy 59-44
Thomas finishes with 17 points and 10 boards to advance
COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- When Maryland star Alyssa Thomas showed up for breakfast Saturday looking bleary-eyed, coach Brenda Frese suspected trouble.
“I asked her how she slept,” Frese said. “She said, `Not good.’ I knew she was too amped up.”
As Frese feared, Thomas struggled in the first half against 15th-seeded Navy in the opening round of the NCAA women’s tournament. So Frese instructed Thomas at halftime to settle down, and the small forward did exactly as told in helping Maryland pull away to a 59-44 victory.
Thomas, the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds. The 6-foot-2 sophomore scored 12 in the second half on 5-for-7 shooting to help the second-seeded Terrapins expand on a 31-23 halftime lead.
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“Coach B challenged me at halftime and told me that I needed to calm down and make plays,” Thomas said. “So I just slowed myself down and focused.”
Thomas fueled a 14-4 run at the outset of the second half to up the margin to 15. Minutes later, she scored six points in an 8-0 spree that made it 57-36 with 6:30 to go.
It was a stark contrast from a first half in which Thomas went 2 for 7 with a turnover in 19 minutes.
“Early, when she’s missing easy plays, that’s not her,” Frese said. “It’s just that she’s so ready to play and so excited. The coaching staff thought I was a little too hard on her, and I thought I was just right. We needed her to play slower.”
Laurin Mincy scored 14 for Maryland (29-4), which will next play Monday night against the winner of the Louisville-Michigan State game.
Although the men’s tournament featured a pair of 15 seeds knocking off No. 2s, there would be no major upset here. When the women’s tournament began, No. 15 seeds were 0-68, and Navy was unable to break the trend.
The Midshipmen had never defeated a ranked team or an ACC foe, and that pattern continued, too.
Thomas had a lot to do with it. Navy coach Stefanie Pemper said trying to stop Thomas is like containing “rainwater.”
“We had a hard time guarding No. 25,” Pemper said.
It was Maryland’s 20th trip to the NCAA tournament and Navy’s second. The difference between the teams, however, transcended postseason experience.
Navy, the Patriot League champion, simply didn’t have enough height or talent to compete with the Terrapins, who finished with a 46-33 rebounding advantage. Maryland’s size was a factor on both ends of the floor.
“I think that played a big part in why a few of us were hesitant to shoot shots that were definitely open,” Navy guard Erin Edwards said. “We’re just not used to such size on the perimeter.”
Jade Geif led Navy (18-14) with 14 points. The Midshipmen shot 30.5 percent and took only two free throws.
“We probably ran 27 plays tonight,” Pemper said. “For anyone sitting near the scorer’s table, you probably thought we had a play for every state in the union.”
Nothing, however, could help the Midshipmen put the ball in the basket. Audrey Bauer went 2 for 15 from the floor and missed eight of nine attempts from beyond the 3-point arc.
Despite finishing with a 27-14 rebounding advantage in the first half, Maryland needed a late 14-6 run to take a 31-23 lead at the break.
Navy did a good job of hanging with the Terrapins at the start, perhaps because the Terrapins hadn’t played a game since winning the ACC tournament on March 4.
Maryland missed five of its first seven shots and fell behind 8-4 on 3-pointers by Alix Membreno and Bauer.
The Midshipmen were painstakingly deliberate on the offensive end, rarely taking a shot without players on the bench counting down the final seconds on the 30-second clock. Not many of those tries went in, but Navy had only two turnovers in the opening 16 minutes.
Maryland got plenty of layups but couldn’t connect, going 5 for 19 from the floor before backup Kim Rodgers drilled a 3-pointer for a 20-17 lead. After Navy misfired on the other end Rodgers again connected from beyond the arc, and Brene Moseley added another to make it 26-17.
“We looked a little rusty from our break, but I was happy to see us kind of settle down before halftime and then get it together for the second half,” Frese said. “I thought the second half was more indicative of how we play.”