Maryland's women's basketball team's best defense this season has been its high-powered offense.
Any team that tried to match baskets with the Terrapins usually lost by 20.
Last Saturday's debacle at Duke exposed Maryland's defensive liabilities. Senior guard Lindsey Harding scored a career-high 28 points as the Blue Devils blew out the Terps 81-62 on national television.
Maryland's transition defense was nowhere to be found. The Harding layup drill was primarily the result of Duke's fast-break opportunities -- either of the 2-on-1, 3-on-1, or 3-on-2 variety. Maryland simply did not get back on defense and as a result, was dethroned, for the time being, as the nation's No. 1 team.
"Clearly, our defense was exploited in the Duke game," Maryland forward Laura Harper said. "Although we weren't hitting shots that game, defense is the main concern because offense is never a problem for us. It's a sprinting mentality now all the time. We got beat in the transition defense. We have the talent, offensively and defensively, to beat Duke or anyone, we just have to bring it on any given night. Now we know. Now we know what we have to do."
Fortunately for the No. 3 Terps (18-1, 2-1 ACC), everything that went wrong in the Duke game is correctable.
Getting back on defense is physical, not mental. The shots that didn't fall against the Blue Devils will snap the nylon again. Maryland entered the Duke game as the nation's best shooting team at 53.8 percent and shot just 37.8 against the Blue Devils, including a horrific 3-for-18 (16.7 percent) from behind the 3-point arc.
"It surprised me, yes. I don't think we should have lost like that," senior guard Shay Doron said. "I don't think we came out ready as we should have. A lot of things went wrong for us in that game, and it just kind of snowballed into worse and worse. You don't want to lose like that, but we're looking to get better and we know we're going to get better."
This time last year, the Terps -- who eventually won the national championship -- already had two losses. Maryland has had nearly an entire week to pour over tapes of the Duke game and show how they can respond tonight against Virginia (12-5, 2-1) at Comcast Center.
The Terps insist there's no psychological baggage hanging over their heads after such an embarrassing loss to the undefeated Blue Devils. Last year at Comcast Center, Duke beat Maryland 86-68.
"Our goals haven't changed in the big picture," Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. "It's our first loss in January after 19 games. If somebody asked would I take it? Absolutely. Everybody has a day like that. We don't put a lot of emphasis on it. We had four losses last year, too. Obviously, it's [defensively] where we've been challenged, and we can get a lot better on the defensive end."
Duke's 81 points were the most the Terps have allowed in a game this season. Conversely, Maryland's 62 points were the most the Blue Devils have allowed in a game this season and the fewest the Terps have scored.
"When our shots aren't falling, we need to depend on our defense," center Crystal Langhorne said. "With Duke beating us, I don't think we have any pressure once again. People think we're a one-hit wonder and I don't think anybody is going to be worried about us that much."
Maryland entered the Duke game with the nation's longest-winning streak at 24 games, the best start in school history, the nation's No. 1 ranking as the defending national champions.
But a loss now is better than one in mid-to-late March. And for Maryland, the pressure is now off.
"It's unfortunate, but then it's not unfortunate that Duke exposed us the way they did because we watch a lot of film and we're learning a lot from it," sophomore point guard Kristi Toliver said. "[If ]that hadn't happened, we would have just kept winning games and would have been 'nightmare city' come tournament time. If you're going to get an 'L,' you might as well get it early in the season and learn from it. Last year we didn't go 39-0. We lost four games and learned from all of the them."
Note -- Doron was named as one of 30 finalists for the Lowe's Senior CLASS award. The award is presented annually to the NCAA male and female senior basketball player who excel both on and off the court. Doron is Maryland's second all-time leading scorer with 1,717 points.