Earlier this season you could have called her the Rajon Rondo of the Maryland women's basketball team - Chloe Pavlech is the up-and-coming point guard and floor general tasked with running the offense early in her career and being the glue that keeps her team's stars together on the path toward achieving excellence, much like a young Rondo at the beginning of the Big Three era in Boston.
She was also the one you left open when you had to double-team Alyssa Thomas or Tianna Hawkins; the freshman you dared to beat you, like NBA teams dare Rondo to knock down a mid-range shot he has never truly been able to master.
But ask Pavlech after she scored a game and career-high 20 points off 8 for 11 shooting from the field and 3 for 6 from downtown to beat No. 24/25 Miami, 84-62, Thursday night at Comcast Center, and she might now want to be compared to somebody who is a better outside shooter and not just a great pass-first point guard.
"I think they thought that I couldn't shoot or score, so I found myself honestly wide open a few times," Pavlech said. "My teammates realized that I had the hot hand and they kept getting me the ball and the ball was going in."
"She was the X-factor," Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said of Pavlech. "We felt like they were going to come at her hard. We had to get her prepared, in terms of the doubles and traps that were going to come her way and she was ready from the tip. She played with a lot of confidence and energy. Give credit to her teammates that continue to find her and give her great confidence. To see her progression has been really a lot of fun to watch."
All of Pavlech's made threes came in the first half, as she had 14 points in that period without which No. 10 Maryland (12-3, 3-1 ACC) would have been in trouble.
In the first, they were in a struggle with the Hurricanes (12-3, 3-1 ACC), much like the ones they had been in against UNC and Florida State, and Tianna Hawkins was 0-6 from the field at the break with one point. The Terps' biggest first half lead was their halftime lead of 37-31, and they had trailed by a greater margin than that (8-1 early).
It was actually Pavlech's first three of the game that made it 8-4 and served as the Terps' first field goal three minutes and 10 seconds into the game. That was certainly an important shot to get the Maryland offense going and with the stellar first half she went on to have, Pavlech held things down long enough for Thomas and Hawkins to come to life in the second, where the Terps' star duo made sure Miami had no hope of even making it close.
Hawkins scored Maryland's first nine points of the second half, and would finish with 17 points and 7 boards in that frame to give herself 18 and 11 total. Thomas added 12 of her 18 points in the second, meaning she and Hawkins combined for 29 after the break, in contrast to just seven before it.
With their stars leading the way, the Terps dominated the scoring margin much more than they did in the first, outscoring the Canes, 47-31, in the second. For the final 11 minutes and 59 seconds of the game, Maryland led by over 15.
"Just the energy that we gave off today, we knew we were going to win that game," Thomas said. "We never let up and never let Miami get comfortable."
The key to Maryland coming away with this impressive 22-point win over a ranked team was their inside-outside game. Miami head coach Katie Meier said that Maryland's 3-point shooting success forced her team to guard the perimeter more aggressively, which led to the Terps' "domination in the paint" in the second half.
Maryland shot 41.7 percent from beyond the arc in the first half. Pavlech and Katie Rutan, who accounted for all the makes, shot a combined 5-8. In other words, they were killing Miami in that department and both Pavlech and Rutan demanded guarding. In the second half, the Hurricanes held the Terps to 0-3 shooting from long range, but lost the points in the paint battle, 38-18, after tying Maryland in that category, 12-12, in the opening period.
Hawkins led the way with 16 points in the paint in the second, while Thomas added eight and Pavlech demonstrated her ability to score in a variety of ways with six.
The second half showed the Terps in their element: scoring in the paint and doing it with Hawkins and Thomas. But Pavlech's breakout first half shows that the Terps can beat you in a lot of different ways, even without two of the players who were supposed to be main contributors: Laurin Mincy and Brene Moseley.
With an outing like Thursday night, Pavlech makes you wonder if she is even really a downgrade at all from fellow point guard Moseley. As far as being an all-around point guard, we already knew Pavlech was no downgrade at all. Since assuming the starting role, she has run the offense with upperclassman-like poise - a trait of hers that both Alyssa Thomas and Katie Meier complimented after Thursday's game, though Thomas was referring to all three of Maryland's freshman.
However, Pavlech's scoring and specifically outside shooting ability are the things that have been brought into question, knowing that Moseley led the team in 3-point shooting percentage a year ago at 40.5 percent. But with her performance against Miami, Chloe has brought her 3-point shooting percentage above 30 percent, which is a good benchmark for the team trusting you to take a large volume of long range shots.
Her recent success (5-10 from downtown in the past two games) makes you wonder why teams are leaving her on the perimeter. Delaware guard Lauren Carra admitted after the game back on Dec. 20 that the Blue Hens gave her space and later realized they had given her a little bit too much space. Pavlech made Delaware pay with two threes, one of which extinguished a Blue Hen second half comeback. Chloe also took Meier by surprise a bit Thursday night.
"On the scouting report, Chloe was shooting ok, but she wasn't shooting 8 of 11," Meier said.
Maybe her career high with three triples made will earn Pavlech some respect from opposing defenses and maybe that will open up some more offensive options for the Terps.
20 points shatters Chloe's previous career high of 10 set at UConn and her 35 minutes played moves her three minutes ahead of Hawkins for second most minutes played for the Terps this season, next to Thomas. That's saying something for a freshman who came in as the least-hyped recruit in her class behind Malina Howard and Tierney Pfirman. Scoring in double digits or not, she is extremely valuable to the Terps.
Morgan Stroman led Miami with 14 points and eight rebounds. The Terps held the Hurricanes' best 3-point shooter, Stefanie Yderstrom, to one three, which was the only three for Miami as a team.
For the Hurricanes this game snaps a four game winning streak against the Terps. Their next game will be at No. 18/22 Florida State on Sunday at 3 p.m.
For Maryland, this gets the monkey that has been Miami off their back. Up next they travel to Blacksburg for a game on Sunday at 2 p.m. against Virginia Tech, a team that, like Miami, they lost to last year, but not with Alyssa Thomas on the floor. For now they are just breathing a small sigh of relief. Miami may have lost more talent to the 2012 WNBA draft than any other ACC team, but they were still in Maryland's head. Not anymore.
"In our locker room there was not one player that had beat Miami, so that's a pride factor," Frese said. "They had had our number for quite a while."