By Sally Fahey
Maryland’s path to the Final 4 ended way too soon, as Texas clamped down on the Terps offense, and the Longhorns became the lowest seed still alive in the women’s NCAA tournament.
Charli Collier scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, and No. 6 seed Texas used a grinding, hustling defensive effort to shut down the nation’s highest-scoring offense for a 64-61 win in the Sweet 16.
Diamond Miller scored 21 points to lead Maryland (26-3), but after getting 46 points off the bench in their second-round win over Alabama, the Terps got just six from their reserves against Texas.
“I think you saw some inexperience today with our team,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. “Credit goes to Texas. I thought they were physical, they were aggressive, they turned it into a game of defense and rebounding. They made one or two more plays in the fourth quarter that made the difference.”
Texas was down 9-0 in the opening minutes before regrouping and smothering a Terrapins attack that had topped 100 points seven times this season and averaged 99 in its first two tournament games.
“I think we just take it in, we hear it and we go after it and we attack,” said Texas guard Celeste Taylor who finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Texas tied it at 59-59 on Taylor’s jumper in the final minute, then took the lead when Kyra Lambert scooped up a loose ball near midcourt and coasted in for a layup with 45 seconds left.
After Maryland’s Miller missed a twisting layup, Lauren Ebo snagged the rebound and quickly fired the ball to Lambert who was fouled. She made 1 of 2 free throws before Maryland’s Katie Benzan missed a 3-pointer. Celeste Taylor then made 1 of 2 free throws for a four-point lead.
Taylor finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Collier scored 10 points in the second half, and her last basket in the fourth quarter pulled Texas even after second-seeded Maryland had swung momentum with two baskets, including a 3-pointer.
Texas (21-9) advances to Tuesday’s Hemisfair Region final against No. 1 South Carolina, which beat fifth-seeded Georgia Tech earlier Sunday.
A win there would send Texas to the Final Four for the first time since 2003. And they would get there with first-year coach Vic Schaefer, who left a powerhouse program at Mississippi State to build another with the Longhorns. Chants of “Texas Fight” roared from the Texas fans at the Alamodome after the final buzzer.
The team, led by Schaefer, ran up to a riser in front of the fans and had a socially distanced celebration with them.
“Coach said in the beginning, he said nobody’s going to believe in us but us, and we came out here, we started out really slow, a 9-0 run, but we believed in each other,” Collier said. “We pulled ourselves together closer in the huddle and we said we’re going to get this done, we’re going to make history and we’re going to go to the Elite Eight.”
Schaefer has experience pulling off an upset as an underdog. His Mississippi State team ended UConn’s long win streak in the national semifinals in 2017.
“I’ve been in this situation before. I’ve been in a game where everybody thought they were going to hang 100 on me, and it didn’t happen,” Schaefer said.
Texas has made its deep run in the tournament on the strength of guard play in support of Collier, who has already announced she will turn pro as the projected No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.
Joanne Allen-Taylor scored 14 points, and Lambert scored 10, taking her last free throws with gauze in her nostril after taking an earlier blow to the face. And the guards rarely left the court: Taylor played 40 minutes, Allen-Taylor played 39 and Lambert played 37.
“They are not letting anybody in that huddle think about anything but win,” Schaefer said.