Louisville, KY -- There was a unique undercurrent that developed the day before Maryland's Sweet 16 game on Sunday.
It seemed, almost to a person, that many aficionados expected Maryland to beat Tennessee, fairly easily - it was almost palpable.
There's a tacit language that speaks volumes without ever uttering a single word - body language. The looseness of the Terrapins' open practice on Saturday, gave off an aura that's rare for a team going against the No. 1 seed in the region.
So I posed that sentiment to Maryland star Alyssa Thomas: "Alyssa, the word is that many people expect you all to win."
She just flashed that million dollar smile of hers and almost without revealing too much, just nodded and said, "That's a good thing."
But this smile was different - very different.
Thomas - who by nature is very humble - flashed a smile that exuded an unspoken confidence that was about as loud as a sonic boom. So then Terrapins' super freshman Lexie Brown walks over, and once she hears the topic of discussion, she nodded her head in approval of the unspoken code: Maryland would win -- handily.
"We knew we could get to the rim on them," said Thomas. "And that was my mentality, just get to the rim and just try to get easy shots."
While the game was the center of discussion, Maryland assistant of Media Relations Director, Rose DiPaula chimed in and said, "Watch out for beast mode, because Thomas never has two off games!"
This was a reference to how Thomas didn't have her best game against Texas. DiPaula's statement was succinct but very perspicacious -- and I made sure to make a mental note of her statement.
See, before Sunday's game, many saw Thomas' lack of dominance against Texas and assumed - wrongfully so - that maybe there was a slight chink in her armor. Not only was there not a chink in her armor Sunday, she was simply impeccable and indomitable.
Thomas put on a performance that left many in the Yum Center totally in awe of the 6-foot-2 wunderkind. She was just a tour de force that Tennessee had no answer for - it was as if they were stuck in a matrix with no way of getting out.
From the outset, Maryland got out the gates quickly -- this was spearheaded by Thomas.
She scored the first four points of the game for the Terrapins, and by halftime, she had more points than she did against Texas with 15. In the second half, Tennessee's Meighan Simmons stepped up to the challenge and did her best to bring the Lady Vols back within striking difference - it was a great duel.
But every single time that it seemed that Tennessee had commandeered the momentum; Thomas would bring it to screeching halt. Whether it was a pass to Laurin Mincy for three or a post-up late in the second half for a score, or when she did a phenomenal euro step in traffic to make it 67-53. The Lady Vols, on this night, had no answer for the riddle that was Alyssa Thomas.
And while Tennessee had some ephemeral moments in the second half, it was nothing more than false hope -- because the female "Bron Bron" wasn't going to be denied, not on Sunday. She seemingly took great pleasure in dismantling the hopes of Tennessee, all while leading the Terrapins to a 73-62 victory and onto the Elite Eight.
"She did just about everything she wanted to - 13 rebounds, 33 points," said Tennessee coach Holly Warlick. "We just didn't have an answer for her tonight, and I don't know why. We just didn't step up and get it done.
"She just had a great night, and you understand why she's an All-American."
Thomas' performance was so special, that even I did something that I've never done. I walked up to her parents, Bob and Tina, after the game and shook their hand. Even with that gesture, I implied something even without saying a word: "Your daughter is an once-in-a-lifetime player."
After Thomas' brilliant performance Sunday, I now understand the definition of "Beast Mode."