COLLEGE PARK, MD -- In a battle of two undefeated teams, programs that are truly elite, No. 1 ranked UConn (12-0), came out on top, defeating a very talented Maryland team, 87-81, in a sold-out environment at Xfinity Center.
Kaila Charles, a freshman guard for Maryland, noted the arena as, “electrifying to play in!”
The Terrapins were within five points of Connecticut three times in the fourth quarter and but UConn’s dominant push to start the third quarter, coupled with fatigue was the undoing for the Terrapins — and the major reason why they couldn’t get over the hump against the tour de force that is the Huskies.
“Most teams would’ve quit,” said Maryland coach Brenda Frese. “So, it tells you about our team, and they’re so competitive. There’s no quit in this team. We just can’t spot a team like UConn 19 points at the end of the game.”
While, Maryland’s team was full of talent and energy on Thursday night, they had no answer for Husky guard Katie Lou Samuelson.
Samuelson led the team with 23 points, including 17 in the second half. Kia Nurse had 19 and Gabby Williams 16 while the No. 4 Terrapins were led by freshman Destiny Slocumb, who had 23 points.
Both teams started off slow in the first quarter until Samuelson had the first three-pointer of the match-up to get the momentum going for UConn and Williams continued to make it look easy for the Huskies with back-to-back points.
It wasn’t until four minutes into the first that Maryland scored. To start the contest, the Terrapins went 0-4 from the field, but turned that into 4-for-5 shortly after.
Maryland began to take control of the game with its pace. The game was tied 10-10 with 3:30 left in the period, yet the Huskies quickly took back command and was up six, 18-12, to end the first.
While the Terrapins got out the gates slow, once the second stanza began, the Maryland became much more aggressive, as they found themselves getting easy buckets in transition to cut into the Huskies’ lead.
Another eye-opening stat from the first period, was offensive rebounds. By the conclusion of the second, Maryland had 12 offensive rebounds compared to UConn’s seven.
Their dominance on the boards, coupled with the effort of freshman Kaila Charles — and a late spurt, Maryland headed into intermission down only, 36-31.
Good thing for the Terrapins, right? Well, not so fast.
UConn came out on fire in the second half with their patented “blitz,” scoring 14 unanswered points in the first 2:19 of the third. Just like that, the contest went from a five-point game, to the Huskies being up by 19.
“To end the half with a turnover and a basket in the last possession especially the way it happened, that really got our attention,” said UConn coach Geno Auriemma. “We came out in the second half a little more aggressive and had some opportunities early and took them right away,” he said.
The run included Samuelson hitting a long three-pointer, as she was being fouled, leading to the very rare four-point-play. Samuelson scored 12 points in the quarter with two dagger-like three-pointers.
UConn maintained a comfortable cushion throughout the fourth, even as Napheesa Collier and Williams each picked up their fourth foul.
As the game moved into the final 10 minutes, the Huskies had a 15-point lead — but it wasn’t safe.
The Terrapins went on a 6-0 run to start off the fourth quarter. Freshman star Destiny Slocum willed her team in a comeback, as she hit deep threes late in the game, to pull her team within striking distance.
But just as momentum was shifting to Maryland, Samuelson hit a mind-blowing three-pointer to silence the sold-out crowd. Another back-and-forth battle ensues, however, the fight the Terrapins had, would be a little too late, and not enough to snap UConn’s unfathomable 87-game winning streak.
“It’s nice and all that, but that’s not the focus of what we’re trying to do,” said Auriemma.
Connecticut will play UCF at 1 pm ET on Jan. 1. Maryland will travel to Minnesota for their Big 10 opener on New Year’s at 6 pm ET.