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Top-ranked UConn survives much improved Maryland

The UCONN Huskies hosted the Maryland Lady Terps in the Maggie Dixon Classic on Monday, December 28 at Madison Square Garden.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK, NY -- The Maryland Terps were seeking a rematch from last year's Final Four semifinal game where the UConn Huskies took the victory and their 10th national championship.  Coach Brenda Frese was more than happy to agree to the rematch looking to better her Terps for Big Ten competition.

Fans from both teams poured into the arena anticipating a thrilling game, and that is exactly what they received.  A sea of red and navy and banners galore provided a great and energetic atmosphere for these ladies.

The first quarter began guns blazing as the Huskies and Terps battled aggressively. It was UConn senior and two-time National Player of the Year Breanna Stewart who put points on the board with a layup; 2-0 Huskies lead.

A competitive spirit filled not only the players, but fans, as well as Maryland's juniors Brionna Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, found opportunities to score. The Terps had aggressive counter-attacks and were able to capitalize making the gap on the scoreboard minuscule and even nonexistent at times. The Huskies lead the Terps at the end of the 1st quarter 21-14.

Maryland began the 2nd quarter with some butterfingers causing multiple turnovers, but quickly regained confidence as senior Chloe Pavlech found space for a three-pointer tying the game 21-21 early. After multiple turnovers and strong defensive play for both teams, it was Terps' Malina Howard with a three-pointer giving Maryland the lead and the fans crying for help.

"Defensively we're always a work in progress, we're not the brightest bulbs coaching wise or playing wise," said UConn coach Geno Auriemma.

Even with Stewart being completely covered in Terp defenders, she still managed to create space and along with senior Moriah Jefferson, brought the Huskies back on top, 36-32.

In the third quarter, Breanna Stewart again flexed her muscles with a jump shot bringing the Huskies ahead 40-32. The Huskies and Terps went toe-to-toe missing opportunities and keeping the score locked at 40-40 with 6:30 left, before senior Morgan Tuck made her way to the free-throw line getting a point for UConn.

Maryland didn't hesitate to respond as Brene Moseley, and Kristen Confroy quickly made plays to keep the Terps within striking distance. But with 2:11 left in the third Tuck and Stewart helped the Huskies to lead Maryland 50-43.

Then Moseley gets fouled to the with 22.2 seconds left, but the Terps still trailed 54-47.  However, UConn's speedy point guard (Jefferson) put the pedal to the medal, giving the Huskies two points and pushing the lead to nine at the end of the third.

"They're hard to play against, they have the size; we knew it was going to be a struggle, they're a way better team than they were last year in the final four for sure," said Auriemma

Tuck finds herself 2 points shy of the 1,000 point club as she starts the fourth quarter with a jumpshot, giving herself 13 total points. The Huskies find themselves with the largest lead of the game so far with 10 points, leading the Terps 59-49. It was thanks to a foul from Brionna Fraser that brought Tuck to the free throw line to collect her two final points and a 61-49 lead.

The gap didn't tarnish Maryland's spirit as they continued to fight back as Confroy, Walker-Kimbrough and Jones found themselves opportunities and bringing the score to 67-62.

Although UCONN pride radiated through The Garden, the Terps found pride in themselves and fought back with aggressive and strong play as Walker-Kimbrough blocked Gabby Williams' lay-up.

Senior Tierney Pfirman assisted the Terps with a jump shot along with Jones, who added another 2 points bringing the score to a very close 73-68 in UConn's favor. The Huskies scurried to secure the lead with 38 seconds left as Saniya Chong made a 3 pointer, and Jefferson was brought to the line for t the cake making the score 83-73.

The Huskies will travel to Cincinnati on Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. Maryland will travel to Illinois to continue their Big Ten play on Thursday at 3:00 p.m.