The Lady Vols cratered into a hole in first half, trailed 41-27 at the break and never recovered, despite outscoring the Terrapins, 35-32, in the second half.
Tennessee ground itself to a halt with turnovers, shot selection and porous defense when it needed stops, as Maryland's Alyssa Thomas put up 33 points with 13 rebounds.
Meighan Simmons did her part for the Lady Vols with 31 points, but her career began and ended in the same place – at the KFC Yum! Center with not enough offensive help. In her Lady Vol debut in 2010, Simmons electrified Tennessee with a win at Louisville – then coach Pat Summitt saluted the freshman's fire and ability to score – and she ended her career with 2,064 points, fifth most in orange history.
"I'm just sad that that was Meighan's last game, and we're going to miss her," Coach Holly Warlick said. "She's done a hell of a job for our program, and I know she's going to go on and do great things."
Andraya Carter and Jordan Reynolds, two savvy freshmen who had led Tennessee to this point, combined to shoot 1-11. The usual sharpshooting Cierra Burdick was 1-4, Bashaara Graves went 1-3, though Graves did grab 14 rebounds, and Harrison was 2-6 with 10 boards.
"They just out-willed us," Burdick said. "They outmuscled us. Like Holly said, they were the better basketball team today. I think our turnovers really hurt us. You can't win the ballgame when you've got 20-plus turnovers.
"We couldn't get into a rhythm offensively, and we weren't getting the stops that we needed defensively. Give Maryland all the credit; they came out and played a heck of a ballgame, and they took away our strengths."
Burdick is considered a go-to among media members, win or lose, because she will break down the outcome. She nailed the final game of the 2013-14 season.
The Lady Vols had 22 turnovers, which snuffed any chance for a comeback, though Tennessee, which trailed by as many as 18 in the second half, did trim the lead to single digits with less than five minutes to play.
But Maryland had an answer for every Tennessee surge and earned the right to play Louisville on Tuesday for a Final Four berth in Nashville. The Lady Vols slogan for the season had been "Grind for 9," and it was especially difficult to fall short with the game's biggest stage set for next week in their home state.
"It's always been a grind for us," Simmons said. "We've had a heck of a year, and any game where we were down we found a way to fight back and Maryland just had the extra oomph today. They pushed through even harder.
We just didn't have it today."
Simmons scored Tennessee's first five points – she drained her first three attempt – but the turnovers and missed shots piled up in the first half. To make it worse, the Lady Vols didn't get back on defense, and the Terrapins grabbed those misses and bolted to the other end.
The Lady Vols were nipped on the boards, 42-40, after crushing opponents on the glass in postseason.
"We felt like it was going to come down to the rebounding and being able to own the glass," Maryland coach Brenda Frese said.
In Frese's pre-game speech, she made rather derisive remarks about Tennessee, using the phrases "bow down" and "kiss the ring." The remarks seemed to be thinly veiled ones directed at Pat Summitt, who coached Tennessee for nearly 40 years, while Warlick just completed her second year as a head coach.
Her remarks were much more measured in the post-game press conference.
"First and foremost, obviously, we all want to be where Tennessee is," Frese said. "We have the utmost respect for what they have and their tradition and what they've been able to create. Obviously that's where we all want to be.
"I think more of my pregame speech was the talk of like, hey, nobody is picking us, taking the pressure off of us, and really playing so we can make sure that everybody knows who we are in this tournament."
Tennessee can point to the stat sheet for the explanation of its demise – 35.8 percent shooting and an unhealthy number of missed layups; those 22 turnovers; and, especially galling, just 28 points in the paint.
"We're a get the ball inside team, and we couldn't find a way to get it inside," Warlick said. "It was physical, and we just couldn't, for one reason or the other, get the ball inside.
"When you turn the ball over 22 times, you're not playing very well. As this team has battled back all year, Maryland wasn't giving in. We dug ourselves in a hole too deep."
Even when the Lady Vols got stops, too often they gave up offensive rebounds to allow Maryland another possession. The Terrapins had 14 offensive boards and matched Tennessee with second-chance points at 17.
It was a frustrating game for Tennessee because the Lady Vols kept hovering – thanks to the scoring of Simmons – but couldn't get the necessary stops on the other end.
Maryland shot just 38.6 percent but made 27 field goals to 19 for Tennessee. The Terrapins also had 13 steals to seven takeaways for Tennessee, but there were times the Lady Vols basically tossed the ball to them after losing the handle.
"I thought we came out just nervous, a little scared for whatever reason," Warlick said. "We didn't have that fight-back at the beginning, and then we got ourselves in a hole."
That is a mind-set that must change for Tennessee. Because the players have the talent and they speak with confidence of their ability. They also have shown that they are capable of following a game plan – and this one was prepared by Dean Lockwood, so it would be thorough, as he is one of the best scouters in the game – so the falters in the NCAA tourney are fixable. But that starts with instilling a tougher attitude and that process starts in the offseason.
Tennessee has plenty of reasons to think that it can compete for a national title next season because of the returning cast and the trio arriving this summer in Alexa Middleton, Kortney Dunbar and Jaime Nared. Ariel Massengale and Jannah Tucker also would be listed among returning players, but their status needs to be resolved in the offseason.
Massengale never returned to the court after being hit in the head Jan. 23 due to lingering headaches. She has been under the concussion protocol – she has a high school and college history of them – and will have to make a tough decision about her playing future.
Tucker initially practiced with the team in January but then was seen on the sidelines with her knee often wrapped. Tucker had ACL surgery in September of 2012 and hasn't played since. She is a shooter and a dynamic defender so getting her knee ready for college basketball would be an offseason priority.
Andraya Carter is a redshirt freshman who stepped into the toughest position in college basketball – point guard. Despite the turnover frenzy, Carter had none and three assists. She needs an offseason to become a confident shooter. Jordan Reynolds proved that she could be a gamer. She also needs an offseason of overall work, but she has the tools and some mental toughness already. Both players are the type to get in the gym.
Burdick is a scorer and emerged at midseason as one of the Lady Vols' most valuable players. She will take up residence in the gym this summer.
Mercedes Russell affected shots inside and needs an offseason to become stronger on the offensive end. She can be a dominant player in college once she gets up to speed and strength. Jasmine Jones needs to harness her considerable athleticism and become a complete basketball player, much like Glory Johnson, who was an All-American as a senior.
The post game will remain a strength as the Lady Vols return Harrison, Graves and the hard-working Nia Moore.
Tennessee wasn't ready to talk about the offseason, but it begins now for the Lady Vols.
"We just didn't have it today," Warlick said. "We just didn't have it, and give Maryland credit; they came out, they played just an outstanding game. They did whatever they needed to do to get the win today."
Warlick was gracious in defeat, and she has the program on the right track. Simmons knows it, too.
"For the people that they have coming in, the freshmen who are coming in and the people who are returning, I would just say to any other team, just look out … ," Simmons said.
Warlick also was grateful for Simmons.
"I think she's got a special gift, and that's to shoot the basketball," Warlick said. "Not too many people can do that, and she has tremendous speed. Just continue to be a professional that she is and keep her head up.
"I know today was tough for her, but she had a great career, and just continue that effort and her love for the game at the next level."
Game highlights via utsportstv
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