Terps oust defending champ A&M in regional semisBy AARON BEARD, AP Basketball Writer Sunday, Mar 25, 2012
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP)—Maryland’s players didn’t panic when they fell behind by 18 in the first half and trailed by 11 midway through the second. These Terrapins have proven they can come back from any deficit, and it’s a big reason why they’re within a game of the Final Four.
Laurin Mincy had 21 points and a career-best 12 rebounds to help Maryland rally past defending national champion Texas A&M 81-74 on Sunday in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament’s Raleigh Regional.
Alyssa Thomas added 21 points and nine rebounds for the second-seeded Terps (31-4), who fought their way back and held the Aggies (24-11) to just one basket over the final 7 1/2 minutes.
“This team knows and has the confidence it can come back against anyone,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said.
The Terrapins rallied from 20 down early in the second half to beat Georgia Tech in January, then overcame a 10-point deficit in the first half to beat the Yellow Jackets on the road a month later. They also came back from 12 down in the first half to top Duke in February and trailed Louisville by nine in the first half of their last NCAA game.
The Terrapins have won 10 straight and 13 of 14 since a home loss to Virginia Tech on Jan. 26. They’re back in a regional final for the first time since 2009 when they were in Raleigh as a No. 1 seed. They’ll face top-seeded Notre Dame with a chance to reach the Final Four for the first time since winning the national championship in 2006.
“I do feel this group has all the intangibles to be able to win it all,” Frese said. “It’s a team that genuinely cares about each other, has each other’s back and is really selfless. They don’t care who receives the attention. It’s very similar to the team that we had in 2006.”
Senior Lynetta Kizer, who had 15 points and the go-ahead basket with 3:29 left, was a freshman on the ’09 team that lost to Louisville in the regional final. She wasn’t ready for this year’s team to play its final game.
“They kept telling us to board and they kept telling us to defend,” Kizer said. “Anything I personally needed to do to help this team take a step forward, that’s what I tried to do because like I said—I don’t want our season with the talent we have in that locker room to end here.”
Maryland finished with a 42-30 rebounding advantage, which led to an 18-5 edge in second-chance points. The Terrapins went ahead to stay on Kizer’s score inside off a feed from Brene Moseley that made it 75-74, which started an 8-0 run to close the game.
Thomas fed Mincy on the break after a turnover for a transition layup. Thomas followed that with a jumper in the lane with 50 seconds left after an offensive rebound from Mincy to make it 79-74, which all but sealed the win as the Aggies missed a series of desperate 3-pointers in the final seconds.
Maryland also played the final 7 minutes without starter Tianna Hawkins, who suffered an apparent bruised hip when she went down in the paint. Frese said afterward that Hawkins was probably OK to return, but she didn’t want to break up the groove the Terrapins seemed to have in their comeback.
Freshman Alexia Standish scored 19 points to lead third-seeded Texas A&M, which could only lament letting two double-digit leads get away as foul trouble added up.
“They really picked up their defense,” Standish said. “At the beginning, we got a lot of open looks. Their defense, we just got by them a lot easier. But they picked it up in the second half.”
Texas A&M got off to a fast start, jumping to a 12-2 lead and pushing that margin to 18 twice in the first half. But Maryland closed the half on a 21-6 run — including a pair of baskets from Thomas in the final 2 1/2 minutes—to trail just 44-41 at halftime.
Thomas scored again to start the second half and pull the Terps within one, but Texas A&M came right back with eight straight points to regain control.
The Aggies led 72-65 on Kelsey Bone’s layup with 7:49 left, but they managed just one field goal—a drive from Standish with 3:48 left—the rest of the game.
“You’ve got to have that killer instinct,” Aggies coach Gary Blair said. “We had a team on the ropes and didn’t put them away.”