“That was fun,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “This is an amazing group. They just continue to find ways.”
The Terrapins jumped out to an early lead but the Tar Heels kept it close through much of the first half, having an answer for every run the Terps went on. Then, with five minutes left in the first half and Maryland up six, star Alyssa Thomas was fouled by Brittany Rountree and landed hard on her hip in a collision at half-court.
The arena went silent as the Terrapin faithful held their breaths while Thomas writhed in pain on the court before finally walking off under her own power, visibly shaken. Thomas' collision seemed to also shake the rest of her teammates, who went scoreless from the floor for over two minutes in her absence.
“It was definitely a scary moment, but it was nothing that hasn't happened before,” said Thomas of her brief injury, which she called “a bump.”
When she came back out with 2:28 to go in the half, she received a standing ovation from the nearly 5,000 fans in Comcast Center. Her return also sparked the Terps and Tianna Hawkins, who hit back-to-back jumpers to give Maryland an 11-point lead and send the crowd into a frenzy.
The Terrapins carried a 37-25 point lead into halftime, but they were only just getting started. A three-pointer by Katie Rutan five minutes into the half opened up an 18-point lead for Maryland, who were in complete control of the game by that point. North Carolina had no answer for the hot shooting and inside-outside game of the Terps.
“We played our game today," Thomas said. "We didn't let them frustrate us. We were the more physical team out there, and they had no answer for us.”
Added Frese, “It was as close to a perfect 40-minute game that we played all season.”
A lay-up by Hawkins with five minutes remaining gave Maryland a 29-point lead, its largest of the game, before the eventual 85-59 final score. Hawkins added eight rebounds to go with her 25 points, while Alyssa Thomas was just shy of a triple-double with 17 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists.
“Carolina brings the best out in us. I think it speaks volumes of the pride that we have in the locker room,” said Frese, who was proud that her team responded so well against UNC this time out after losing in Chapel Hill.
Maryland also received strong play from freshman point guard Chloe Pavlech, who scored 12 points in the first half alone and finished with 18. Pavlech continued to demonstrate her knack for coming up big against ranked teams, which Frese attributes to her being “a gamer.”
“Chloe lives for the big stage,” Frese said. “She wants to shine, and that's what makes her so special. To have her come out fearless and with that kind of confidence, I think her teammates feed off that.”
Pavlech agreed with her coach, but added that she and Frese have talked about her trying to be more consistent with not following up good games with bad ones.
“It's just really finding that balance. The ACC is a tough conference, and I'm learning,” said Pavlech.
The loss was North Carolina's first since Dec. 2, and only its second on the season.
The Terps next hit the road looking to keep up their strong ACC play at Clemson on Sunday. Tip-off is set for 5 p.m.