Virginia tops No. 6 Maryland, 86-72
Wolfe pours in 24 as Cavaliers pull huge upset of favorited Terps
With 30 seconds left in the second half Thursday night at John Paul Jones Arena, Virginia senior guard Kelsey Wolfe held the ball near midcourt, her team up by 12 points and the pro-Cavalier crowd on its feet. The visiting Maryland Terrapins, the No. 6 team in the country, had conceded defeat in its final regular-season trip to Charlottesville as a member of the ACC. The basketball yet to be played would only make official Virginia’s most impressive victory of the year, an 86-72 win.
Wolfe, whose junior season ended against Maryland when she suffered an ACL injury in her right knee last Feb. 17, had just played the finest game of her farewell season, sinking midrange jumpers, long-range bombs and cold-blooded free throws en route to a 24-point night. Her recovery from the injury was not straightforward, and it certainly was not easy, but Wolfe, a breakout player last year, said she may finally be back at the top of her game.
“This game just really signified, I think, that I’m back and that my knee is OK and that everything’s OK,” Wolfe said. “I’m just really proud of everyone. Everybody brought it. Everybody followed the game-plan, and we executed down the stretch, and we were really mature.”
Virginia managed to take down Maryland (16-2, 4-1 ACC) on a night when Terrapins senior forward Alyssa Thomas, an All-American and the Preseason ACC Player of the Year, alternately bullied and finessed her way to a 27-point, 10-rebound double-double. The Cavaliers won despite having only five players in the scoring column, and they did not run out of gas in their fourth consecutive game against a ranked opponent. Last Sunday, Virginia bested then-No. 17 Florida State by a 17-point margin. Thursday, the Cavaliers raised their game yet again.
“It’s not like we won a national championship,” coach Joanne Boyle said. “It’s like, ‘You know what? We belong here. We belong at the top of the ACC. We can do this.’ So, it’s just a game at a time, and it’s been a process for this program, and these girls are on a special journey … It’s a great stepping-stone to the future.”
Virginia won by taking care of the basketball, making difficult shots and feeding off one another’s energy. The Cavaliers coughed up only eight turnovers, half Maryland’s total, and combated the Terrapins’ 50 percent field goal percentage by making half their own shots and 20 of 22 free throws. Wolfe paced the Cavaliers in scoring, but Virginia had five players in double-figures. Senior guard Ataira Franklin and sophomore guard Faith Randolph each scored 19 points, while senior guard Lexie Gerson and junior forward Sarah Imovbioh contributed 12 apiece.
One week ago, Virginia dropped below .500 after being walloped by Duke, 90-55. The Cavaliers, however, responded with their best week of basketball this season.
“It shows that we’re a resilient team and we’re really starting to come into our own,” Franklin said. “I think we’re starting to show everyone that this is the team that we’re going to be and just establishing an identity for ourselves.”
Virginia trailed Maryland, 38-34, going into halftime, but when play got going again, the Cavaliers punched the Terrapins in the mouth. Imovbioh finished inside on a pick-and-roll; Gerson knocked down a three-pointer from the right wing, and Imovbioh scored on a put-back of Franklin’s miss.
Then, Gerson intercepted a pass from redshirt senior guard Katie Rutan and took off on a one-woman fast break. She finished at the rim but took a hard foul from Rutan, slamming into the basket’s support. Gerson, who looked dazed, momentarily exited the game. Virginia, however, kept the pressure on, adding two Franklin free throws to complete the game-changing 11-0 run.
“When I saw the shot go in, I went crazy,” Franklin said. “And then I looked, and I was like, ‘Oh. Uh-oh,’ because, you know, us old ladies, we have to stick together … From there, everyone was pumped and hungry the whole game. So, that was just exciting to see and be in that environment.”
Gerson returned to the action with 14:37 to go and knocked down an elbow jumper 20 seconds later. Right before her shot, Maryland subbed out Thomas, who had just committed her third personal foul.
The Terrapins did not find much offense from their back court players, as Rutan finished with six points and freshman guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, the team’s second-leading scorer, never got into a real offensive flow. Maryland’s desperation for baskets came through clearly in the final minutes, as coach Brenda Frese deployed Thomas as a point-forward, having her bring up the ball and attack off the dribble.
Franklin, who hails from Maryland, got a win against her home state’s basketball powerhouse, but after the game, she wanted to talk about what the night meant to Wolfe, not herself.
“I just think it’s amazing,” Franklin said. “I mean, I’ve lived with Kels all four years. You know, when Kelsey was going through the tougher times with the ACL, like coming back, then I just remember sitting in her room with her at 2 a.m. just talking, just trying to figure things out and keep her spirits lifted. So, I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone work as hard to come back, and for her to be so confident on her leg and not even play passive or hesitant is just huge for us as a team.”