COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) – For 20 agonizing minutes, Alyssa Thomas had to rely on her teammates to keep Maryland from falling hopelessly behind Texas.
In the second half, Thomas returned the favor.
Thomas scored all 16 of her points after halftime, and the Terrapins squeezed out a 69-64 victory Tuesday night to reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA women’s tournament for the third consecutive year.
The fourth-seeded Terrapins (26-6) next face Tennessee, the No. 1 seed in the Louisville Regional. Maryland is 23-8 in the tournament under coach Brenda Frese and has reached the round of 16 in six of her 12 seasons at the helm.
“I’m really happy for our seniors to be able to go out with a win on their home court,” Frese said. “But like I told them in the locker room, we’re not finished. I’m excited to be able to go, and we’re going to make a run for the roses.”
In a game that featured 15 lead changes and was tied seven times, fifth-seeded Texas rallied from an 11-point deficit to get within 65-64 with 43 seconds left. After Longhorns senior Chassidy Fussell missed a 3-point try, Laurin Mincy made two free throws for a three-point lead.
Nekia Jones then bounced a 3-point try off the rim for Texas, and Thomas clinched the victory by sinking two foul shots with 8 seconds to go.
“We needed a stop and I was able to secure the rebound,” Thomas said. “It was just a moment of relief to know we had this one in the bag.”
Krystle Henderson scored a career-high 14 points and Fussell had 13 for Texas (22-12). The Longhorns shot 36 percent (21 for 58) and got only six points and six rebounds from 6-foot-7 center Imani McGee-Stafford, who fouled out in the final minute.
And still, the Longhorns came agonizingly close to reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2004. Texas coach Karen Aston won’t soon forget those late misses by Fussell and Jones.
“I would want those same players to take those same shots,” Aston said. “In particular, the shot Chas got out of the timeout, it was exactly what we were looking for. The shot that ‘Kia got was a great shot. We didn’t have any more timeouts, so they improvised a little bit, and I thought that was a really good shot.”
Thomas finished with 11 rebounds, her 26th double-double of this season. In the first half, however, the three-time Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year went 0 for 5 from the floor, missed both free throws and had two turnovers.
“I can’t remember the last time I saw Alyssa with zero points, and we were tied at halftime,” Frese said.
The Terrapins trailed 38-37 before Thomas scored five points in an 11-3 run that put Maryland ahead for good. She finished 5 for 13 from the floor, but Thomas — the leading scorer in school history — had plenty of help.
Alicia DeVaughn had 12 points and seven rebounds, Mincy and Lexie Brown each scored 10 and seven players were used for at least 12 minutes.
“This is the most depth we’ve had in the four years that I’ve been here,” Thomas said. “Just the energy and how we’re willing to fight for each other. It’s definitely different. It’s going to be a special ride.”
Thomas scored her first basket on a jumper with 18:21 left in the game. She added a three-point play with 16:26 to go, then followed a Texas misfire with a twisting layup to provide Maryland with a 44-38 lead.
Minutes later, a baseline jumper by Brown put the Terrapins in front 48-41, the largest margin by either team to the point. The lead swelled to 55-44 before Texas fought back.
“The resiliency of our team has been something that I have watched grow throughout the year,” Aston said. “We’ve really become a pretty good basketball team, and I think we showed that tonight.”
After going 12-18 last season, the Longhorns appear to be on the rise.
“Our entire goal was to grow and get this program back to where it needed to be,” junior Nneka Enemkpali said, “and I feel we’re making steps toward that.”
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