As the end of the first half approached in Tuesday’s second-round NCAA tournament game, Utah found itself in a common situation. With the shot clock turned off, Mountain West player of the year Morgan Warburton calmly stood at the top of the key, watching the seconds tick down to single digits and waiting for the right time to take the last shot of the first half.
Or at least what she thought would be the last shot.
Marissa Coleman blocked Warburton’s driving layup and hit Kristi Toliver with an outlet pass. Toliver raced up the court, drew the lone Utes defender who made it back and delivered a perfect bounce pass to Marah Strickland for a wide-open layup.
That sequence was a microcosm of the Terrapins’ 71-56 win over Utah at Comcast Center. The Utes were sometimes close but never corralled the Terps.
“Our defense and rebounding led to transition, and that’s how we like to play,” Terps coach Brenda Frese said. “We were really unselfish in our attack mode. We were hitting our bigs, we were hitting our guards, and just being really aggressive in transition.”
With the victory, the Terps advanced to the Sweet 16, where they face No. 4 Vanderbilt on Saturday at RBC Center in Raleigh, N.C.
Utah did its best to slow down Maryland’s senior stars. Kalee Whipple played tight and physically with Coleman. The Utes threw waves of defenders at Toliver, trying cut off all available lanes to the paint.
But it didn’t matter. The Terps had their pick-and-roll game working, and Toliver (17 points) and Coleman (18 points) showed again all they need is a little daylight to get a high-percentage shot off.
But it hardly mattered if a Maryland shot went awry. The Terps grabbed 25 offensive rebounds leading to 14 second-chance points and held a 54-24 rebounding advantage overall.
Utah’s quick lineup gave the Terps fits at first, but Frese adjusted by inserting backup point guard Anjale Barrett for center Lynetta Kizer with 14:14 left in the first half. Maryland stuck with a four-guard lineup for the rest of the game and began scoring in bunches. Starting bigs Dee Liles and Kizer split time at center, and Coleman banged down low on defense as the Terps built their rebounding advantage.
Coleman finished with a career-high 18 rebounds.
“Dee and I talked about it, that we were going to every board, her and I together,” Coleman said. “She said that she would have had 18 and I would have had 17 because I stole one from her, but I had to pay her back from all the times she steals one from me.”
And at the same time, Warburton and Whipple cooled off, drying up Utah’s surest chance of keeping up with the Terps.
Utah led 15-8 when Maryland went small, and the Terps went on 20-5 run in the next 6:32. After trading baskets with Utah for the next three possessions, Maryland closed the half on a 12-0 run.
“Utah started off really well, and we knew that was going to happen,” Toliver said. “They’re notorious for doing that. I think that we played 16 great minutes after that first four, and we definitely wanted to close the first half by going on a run.”