Maryland women’s basketball coach Brenda Frese knew that Navy would not be an easy ship to sink in the first round of the NCAA tournament, especially if Alyssa Thomas, the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, wasn’t at her best.
“I asked her [at the team breakfast] how she slept last night and she said, ‘Eh, not good,’” Frese said. “I knew that she was too amped up.”
The Terps’ leading scorer shot just 2-for-7 in the first half, but a halftime pep talk helped the forward overcome her jitters and surpass 1,000 career points in Maryland’s 59-44 win at Comcast Center on Saturday. The Terps (29-4) will advance in the Raleigh region to face Louisville on Monday at 7 p.m.
A day after two No. 2 seeds fell in the men’s tournament, Navy (18-14) looked to be the third 15 seed to pull an upset, forcing four ties and four lead changes in the first half.
“We kind of came out really anxious and excited to play,” Frese said. “We looked a little rusty, obviously, from our break since the ACC tournament.”
Navy kept the game close in the first half until Maryland’s senior guard Kim Rodgers hit back-to-back 3-pointers and freshman guard Brene Moseley hit a third to complete the nine-point swing that occurred in just under two minutes.
Rodgers said: “To be able to come in and provide the spark off the bench, which is what [Moseley] and I did, helps to get things going when there is a lull in the game.”
The contributions from the two bench players illustrated Frese’s command to play “12 strong” and helped Maryland head to the locker room with a 31-23 lead, despite Thomas being limited to five points.
“Coach B challenged me at half time and told me that I needed to calm down and come out and make plays,” Thomas said. “I just kind of slowed myself down and focused out there.”
The sophomore forward responding by scoring 12 of her 17 points to go along with 10 rebounds. Laurin Mincy added 14, shooting 5 of 8 from the field.
The Midshipmen refused to roll over in the second half. Sophomore forward Jade Geif, who led Navy with 14, hit a jumper and Chloe Stapleton followed with a 3-pointer to cut Maryland’s lead to 37-30 with about 15 minutes to play.
“One 3 just picks your spirits up,” Navy coach Stefanie Pemper said. “We were down, we felt like maybe [it’s over] and we hit a 3 and we have this new life.”
Instead, Maryland went on a 20-6 run over an eight-minute stretch to take a commanding 21-point lead. Thomas started the rally at the 14:24 mark by capturing her 1,000th point. She is the 27th Maryland player and second fastest to reach the milestone.
“Early, when she’s missing easy plays, that’s not her. It’s just that she’s so ready to play and so excited,” Frese said of her halftime talk. “What is great about Alyssa is that you can motivate her and you can challenge her in so many different ways.”
Navy relied heavily on the 3-pointer because of its considerable size disadvantage. The Midshipmen shot 5 of 13 from behind the arc in the first half, but made just 1 of 12 in the second.
“We shoot the 3 and it’s part of why we had a successful season. We certainly shot it tonight, we just didn’t connect on it enough,” Pemper said. “…I don’t look at 59 points to the ACC champs and think that’s why we lost, but dang we spent all week working on offense.”
Maryland’s matchup with Louisville on Monday will be the next step in exorcising the demons from last year’s second round in which the Terps were blown out by 20 at home.
“Last year was a painful lesson for us,” Frese said. “Our goal is fight to finish this year.”