Alyssa Thomas has played many roles for the Maryland women’s basketball team: scorer, rebounder, facilitator.
But in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the Terps needed Thomas to fill a new role: cheerleader.
Limited to just 26 minutes and six points because of foul trouble, the ACC player of the year could do little more than watch from the bench while Laurin Mincy picked up the scoring and Tianna Hawkins took care of the rebounding, as Maryland edged Louisville 72-68 at Comcast Center.
Mincy was one short of her career high with 24 points and Hawkins added 15 points and 14 rebounds to help the Terps win for the ninth time in a row and 12th in 13 tries.
The Terps will advance to the Sweet Sixteen to play Texas A&M — a 61-59 winner over Arkansas — in Raleigh N.C.
“We never flinched,” coach Brenda Frese said. “We just kept battling. And that’s what this team has done all season long.”
With five minutes remaining, senior center Lynetta Kizer hit a pair of free throws to pull Maryland within one. Frese waved her arms up and down wildly to pump up the 4,857 fans— the vast majority in Maryland red, not Louisville red.
The Terps responded with a defensive stop and Mincy gave Maryland the lead with a pair of free throws. The Terps never let go of that lead, outscoring the Cardinals 13-4 over the final 5:45.
However, in the physical game featuring seven ties and 11 lead changes, Lousiville had one final heave to tie it for an eighth time.
Again at the foul line with a chance to tie her career high with 34 seconds, Mincy made just one of two to put Maryland up by three. Louisville swung the ball around, looking for the tying basket and finally senior Becky Burke’s off balance 3-point attempt came up short.
Though it wasn’t officially ruled a block, Mincy said she got her right hand on the ball.
Burke confirmed: “I wouldn’t have missed it that bad if [Mincy] didn’t get a hand on it.”
The victory helps the Terps exorcise the demons from last year’s 79-57 second-round loss to Georgetown at home — a loss that inspired Frese’s mantra for this season of “Fight to Finish.”
“This time last year I was up here [at the podium] and coach B had to fill in my words for me because I was so distraught,” said senior guard Kim Rodgers. “It feels much better to be moving on.”
It is also a bit of redemption from 2009 when the Cardinals upset Maryland in the Elite Eight to advance to the team’s first Final Four in school history.
“We were right there,” said Louisville coach Jeff Walz, who was an assistant under Frese for six seasons. “Unfortunately we could just not close things out the last five minutes of the game.”