It was just a tremendous game, said Maryland Head Coach Brenda Frese. It's a shame that any team had to lose that game. Both teams competed for 40 minutes.
It was a game that featured 41 combined fouls, and it was only fitting that it came down to free throws in the closing minutes. Free throws had plagued the Terps all night, especially in the first half, when they made just four of 11. But Maryland made seven of 10 in the final five minutes of play to rally from a five point deficit and keep their season alive.
A jumper by Tianna Hawkins ignited the rally, while Lynetta Kizer pulled the Terps within one with two free throws less than a minute later. Mincy then gave Maryland the lead with two more free throws, and a quick steal and foul put Kim Rodgers at the line with a chance to extend the Terps' lead. She made just the first free throw, but Hawkins grabbed the miss and put it back up to give Maryland a four point lead with four minutes to go, capping a 9-0 run and sending the crowd into a frenzy.
Louisville closed the gap to two with 1:37 to play, and after the Terrapins turned it over with a minute left and fouled Cardinals star Shoni Schimmel, it appeared that the Cardinals would tie it. But Schimmel, who had 22 points at the night, missed the front end of the one-and-one, and Mincy made one of two free throws at the other end to put Maryland up by three with 34 seconds remaining.
Louisville had its chances to tie the game with a three-pointer, but the Terps' defense kept them from getting a good look at it. On the Cardinals' final try - a three-point attempt by Becky Burke with four seconds left - Mincy got just enough of her hand on it to slow the shot and preserve the lead. Hawkins added one more free throw with 0.5 seconds left, and Maryland could finally celebrate its first trip to the Sweet 16 since 2009.
This time last year when I was up here, Coach B had to fill in my words for me because I was so distraught, said senior Kim Rodgers. It feels much better to be moving on; our team has worked really hard this year to get better and I think we've shown that.
The win proved that the Terps can persevere through adversity, as they overcame an early 17-8 deficit, a struggling Thomas, and foul trouble for several players, including Thomas, DeVaughn, Kizer, and Hawkins.
I thought our team did a tremendous job just hanging in there, said Frese. We never flinched. We just kept battling, and that's what this team has done all season long.
For Louisville, it was a sense of a missed opportunity. Head Coach Jeff Walz knew his team was right there, but just could not pull it out at the end.
I really thought we were going to win today, he said. I am disappointed in myself because we couldn't come up with a few boards at the end that we had to get.
On the night, the Terps out-rebounded the Cardinals 41-to-35. They were led by Hawkins, who had 14 rebounds to go along with 15 points and who Walz called a fantastic rebounder.
Tianna was sensational tonight, the way she cleaned up on the boards all night long, said Frese.
Frese also praised her teams' defense, calling it tremendous. The Terps had 22 points off of Louisville turnovers, and had eight steals on the night. But Frese's highest defensive praise was for Rodgers, her senior leader.
A lot of times you don't see what Kim does on the stat sheet, but gosh, when she's on the floor, what a difference she makes for us defensively, said Frese.
With the win, Maryland will now travel to Raleigh, N.C. for the Sweet 16 round, and will be looking to get back to the Elite Eight. To get there they will have to defeat No. 3 seed Texas A&M, who is also the defending national champion. It will be a tall task, but for Mincy and the Terps it will be another chance at proving themselves on the big stage.
The bigger the game, the bigger she plays, said Frese, of Mincy. She's taken her game to a whole new level this year.