COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Army scoring leader Kelsey Minato is often on target for the Black Knights. She was again after Sunday's NCAA Tournament First Round game at Maryland.
Asked what happened after 13th seed Army went into a timeout with a three-point lead midway through the first half, she said simply, "It's like we woke up the beast."
That's as accurate a description as anyone offered for 4th seed and 11th ranked Maryland's convincing 90-52 triumph that advances the Terrapins to Tuesday night's Round of 32 game against Texas, which defeated Pennsylvania. That contest will be at 7 p.m., also in the Comcast Center and on ESPN2.
"When we called the timeout and we were down there was a little anxiousness in the huddle and (Alyssa Thomas) was such a calming influence," said Maryland coach Brenda Frese. "She just said we were fine and that we were going to get this."
Near the end of the first half – as Maryland was putting on a decisive 29-2 blitz – Shatori Walker-Kimbrough blocked Minato's jumper in the paint, then the freshman slipped out on the break. When Thomas corralled the rebound, something the Terrapins did with great regularity, she found Walker-Kimbrough with a perfect pass behind Army lines and another easy transition bucket.
The play was emblematic of Maryland's all-around effort.
"I think we just had a lot of nerves in the beginning and weren't getting out in transition," said Thomas, who became the Terrapins' all-time leading scorer, man or woman. "Once we started getting stops and getting rebounds and pushing the ball, it just opened up a lot for us."
The Terrapins (25-6) had actually trailed 18-15 at 9:10 when Minato hit a 3-pointer, but that's when Maryland got down to business. Freshman Lexie Brown, having one of her best games, scored on the break from Thomas. Then Brown dribbled through the Army defense and fed a wide-open Laurin Mincy for three that put Maryland up 20-18 at 7:49. The Terps would never trail again.
Brown was 9-of-11 from the field and had a team-high 21 points in her first NCAA Tournament game. "It was a lot of fun," said Brown. "It was a lot easier the fact that we got to play at home. We got two great weeks of practices. We were a little nervous because of the stage but when we got rolling we were hard to stop."
Maryland (25-6) hadn't played since the March 7 ACC Tournament loss to North Carolina, a game that saw the Terrapins shoot just 1-of-12 from 3-point range. Army coach Dave Magarity had seen that, too, and had his Black Knights (25-8) pack back to control Thomas, who still managed her 25th double-double this season with 13 points and 14 rebounds in just 28 minutes.
"I haven't been in the women's game that long," said former Marist mens' coach Magarity. "(Thomas) is one of the best players I have ever seen in terms of her instincts and her ability. What an unbelievable nose for the ball. She's so good in person. It was a treat to watch her but it wasn't so good for (my team)."
Thomas had eight offensive rebounds and four assists to discombobulate the Army defense. Her work inside opened things up for Maryland to can 7-of-13 3-point attempts and blow the game open.
Defensively, Maryland's bigs did a great job hedging on Army screens and forcing the Black Knights away from the basket. "Their posts are really big and they're quick laterally," said Minato, who heated up to finish with 27 points on 9-of-19 shooting. "I wasn't getting that many clean looks. It was tough because they're so big and athletic."
After taking that lead midway through the first half, Army wouldn't get another field goal until 19:15 of the second half.
The Black Knights had just two free throws to show for the final 9:10 of the first stanza, Maryland clamping down on the Patriot League champions. Tierney Pfirman hit a jumper on the break. Thomas got a rebound and hit two free throws, the Terrapins in their most relentless mode almost until the final horn.
With 3:30 left in the half, Thomas again grabbed an offensive rebounds and hit two free throws, giving her 2,270 points in her career, the most in Maryland basketball history as she passed Juan Dixon for that distinction. She had already eclipsed Crystal Langhorne's women's record of 2,247 points.
Thomas was sheepish when asked if she might bring that fact up to men's assistant coach Dixon sometime around the Comcast Center. "I will," chimed in Frese with a laugh. It was that kind of day for the Terrapins.
"It was really a dominating, convincing win for us once we got the jitters out to start the game," Frese said. "I thought we were able to really show what separates us and makes us special. Our defense and our rebounding really led to transition. We were able to share the basketball today. We made easy plays and really had a lot of fun."
Maryland led 44-20 at halftime, taking advantage of that torrid finish, 11 Army turnovers and a commanding 25-12 rebounding edge, including 12 offensive rebounds. Thomas had 13 points at that point, and Brown 12, while Army's 21.8 points per game scorer, Minato had nine. Brown, though, didn't even let her get a shot off until nearly six minutes had passed to start the game.
"We changed our defense and I thought some of the switches we made really helped our defense," said Frese. "We talked about our bigs being comfortable being uncomfortable. That's not something you routinely see, them having to guard guard-play out there. Army does such a great job, they run a ton of screens so we thought the switches were necessary."
The defense allowed the running game to kick. The Terrapins, in fact, scored the last 14 points of the first half, Brown scoring eight straight points as Maryland's withering pace wore out the Black Knights.
Maryland dominated statistically – 47-22 in rebounding, 21-5 points off turnovers, 28-6 points in the paint, 12-0 fastbreak points – and the Army starting front line was just 1-of-6 combined from the field.
The Terrapins got a big lift from their deep bench – a 13-3 scoring edge in the first half and 38-13 for the game – Mincy and Pfirman, in particular, contributing at both ends. Pfirman had five 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting, and yanked down eight rebounds. Mincy had five points and two assists but helped speed the tempo with her defense and ability to get out on the break.
"All year we've talked about our depth and how we send people in in waves," said Mincy. "I think coming into the game in the first half we were kind of stagnant and Coach Frese went to the bench and told us to play like we had to."
When Army tried to regroup to start the second half, Maryland was having none of it. The Terrapins hit seven of their first eight shots and all four of their 3-point attempts. When Brown canned a 15-footer at 13:52, Maryland's lead was 62-30.
And Katie Rutan started putting on a shooting exhibition, hitting her first four shots after a scoreless first half. Three of those field goals were threes, all in the first five minutes of the second half, and she finished with 11 points.
Maryland shot 65 percent (19-of-29) in the second half and finished at 53.8 percent for the game (35-of-65), the team's fourth time over 50 percent in the last six games.
"We were setting good screens and Lexie was doing such a good job off the dribble that it set the corners up for the shooters," said Mincy.
Maryland would lead by as many as 41 points at 5:36 when Walker-Kimbrough hit one of two free throws to make it 83-42. Walker-Kimbrough, on her way to eight points, had just converted an old-fashioned 3-point play on the previous possession.
Perhaps the loudest roar of the game came soon after when at 3:35, Frese sent little-used seniors Essence Townsend and Sequoia Austin to the scorers' table to check in.
That roar may have been eclipsed when Townsend, who celebrated her birthday yesterday, was serenaded by the large crowd, and drained a 15-footer with nine seconds left to put the final points on the board. All 13 Terrapins played, and 11 of them scored, including six apiece from Brionna Jones and Malina Howard, who also did the heavy lifting on chasing guards off all those screens.
Maryland went to 11-3 in NCAA First Round games, and are 22-8 all-time in the tournament under Frese, including five Sweet Sixteens, four Elite Eights, a Final Four and the 2006 national championship.
This was Maryland's first meeting ever with Army, where Terrapin Athletic Director Kevin Anderson once presided. Anderson, in Maryland colors, was beaming in the press conference interview room after the game. It was part of a theme on the day.
"It was a lot of fun today," said Brown.
Thomas, Terps Run Past Army
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