However, on Sunday, the No. 15/14 Terps surpassed all expectations in an 88-65 win over the No. 10/11 Tar Heels that marked Maryland's largest margin of victory over UNC in head coach Brenda Frese's nine-year tenure.
Frustrated by an inability to finish in disappointing losses to their first two ACC opponents of the season, No. 3/3 Duke and Boston College, the Terps were hungry for the time when they would feel they had competed for a fully forty minutes.
Tonight, they did exactly that, improving in seemingly every statistical category as well as in areas not so apparent on a stat sheet, including blossoming in confidence and demonstrating an unwaveringly dominant defensive mentality.
Although UNC senior guard Italee Lucas (17 points) was able to match the Terps in scoring to create a tie of 4-4 within the first 1:29, the Tar Heels never came any closer as the Terps went on a 16-3 run in the next 6 minutes to generate a powerful 20-7 advantage with 12:49 remaining.
Despite 17 first half turnovers by the Terps that resulted in multiple breakaway attempts by the Tar Heels, the noticeably smaller UNC players found their fast break opportunities routinely quashed by the taller, defensively-minded Terps.
Sophomore Diandra Tchatchouang (13 points), who scored the game-winning layup against Virginia, demonstrated especial dedication in this area, forcefully rejecting 4 shots and establishing a tone of dominance on the defensive end.
I thought great effort getting back and hustling, said Frese. I thought our length at times, with their guard play being smaller, gave them problems in transition.
In addition to blocking potential layups, the Terps earned a dramatic advantage on the defensive boards, grabbing 36 for the night and allowing UNC just 13 second chance points while they grabbed 21. The Terps outrebounded UNC 55-32 in total.
After debilitating UNC's offensive flow, the Terps capitalized on the opportunity to run their own transition offense, as well as to maintain a sense of control over the tempo of the game.
Our defense absolutely led to our offense and our transition game, said Frese.
Freshman center Alicia DeVaughn proved pivotal in the Terps' interior efforts in the first half, exhibiting an increased awareness of her positioning on the floor and a more exacting use of her timing, acting as a virtual embodiment of the Terps' escalating confidence level.
I thought Alicia was huge in that first half. Flawless, said Frese. Just playing basketball, reading cuts, just letting the game come to her. And she was a big spark for us with her energy and how she played.
DeVaughn was also incredibly productive, scoring all 12 of her points and grabbing 3 rebounds in just 9 first half minutes.
The Maryland post players' collective defensive resolve limited UNC forward/center Chay Shegog to just 10 points in 23 minutes and held forward/center Waltiea Rolle scoreless in 12 minutes of play.
Realizing the importance of post play upon entering the second half, junior center Lynetta Kizer advised her teammates to pretend that they were losing by 20 points in order to ensure a stable intensity level and prevent another last-minute upset.
The Terps held the Tar Heels to 33.8% shooting for the night while they completed 47.6% of their attempts.
I told the bigs that we need to go out and we need to put a body on somebody and we need to board for the rest of the half, we can't let up, said Kizer. And we were successful.
Kizer recorded 12 points for the Terps as one of five players in double-figures, and freshman forward Alyssa Thomas proved reliable once again, with her fourth double-double (16 points, 13 rebounds) in five conference games.
In the final minutes of the game, as UNC was forced to foul in an attempt to gain control of the game, the Terps solidified an already wildly triumphant evening by affirming their improvement from the free throw line, where they sank a season-best 92.0% of their shots.
This team has been repping free throws since Christmas, said Frese. I told them after the game, it's the little things that we've been doing behind the scenes, that at some point, is going to pay off. And each and every one of them would do it a million times over to be able to come out and play like this.
Elated by their performance, the Terps believe that the win is not only rewarding for their past efforts but promising for the future. At this time in the season, Frese believes it is a great opportunity for [the Terps] to gain momentum.
However, she says, they must never be satisfied. This just shows us what level we can play at. But we've got to now stay hungry for our pursuit for what's ahead.
The Terps will test that resolve when they take on Wake Forest on Friday, January 28, at 8:30 p.m.