Leading, 36-31, at halftime Thursday night, Connecticut women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma admitted "everyone was upset with the way the first half ended." Maryland women's basketball's freshman guard Blair Watson intercepted UConn's inbound pass with two seconds remaining and converted a layup, cutting the Terps' deficit to five before the break.
"That really stung and really got our attention," Auriemma said. "At the start of the second half, we just took advantage of every opportunity that we got, and I think that might have been the difference in the game because that started to give us the cushion that we needed."
UConn's advantage at intermission quickly blossomed to 19 points after their 14-0 run to start to the third quarter, a stretch in which the Terps missed each of their four shots. Maryland attempted to comeback in front of a sold-out crowd at Xfinity Center, but the Huskies' third-quarter spurt gave them a lead that was too much for the No. 4 Terps to overcome. With an 87-81 victory, top-ranked UConn won its 87th straight game, a streak that dates back to 2014.
Freshman guard Destiny Slocum led the Terps (12-1) with 23 points and seven assists, while freshman guard Kaila Charles added 18 points and had four steals. Center Brionna Jones had a double-double against UConn for the second straight season, scoring 19 points and grabbing 13 rebounds.
For UConn, guards Katie Lou Samuelson and Kia Nurse combined to score 42 points.
Similar to the Terps' 83-73 loss to the Huskies in New York City last year, Maryland stayed within striking distance but couldn't pull out a victory.
The Terps missed their first three shots, and their shooting woes resulted in a 7-0 hole to start the game. Samuelson started the Huskies off with a three on their first possession, and forward Gabby Williams added two layups before Maryland could slow the UConn run.
Charles helped Maryland respond by scoring eight of the Terps' first 10 points. Charles combined with Slocum to tie the game at 10 before UConn (12-0) pushed the lead to 20-12 after the first quarter. Maryland shot 29 percent from the field and missed its four three-point attempts in the period.
Maryland heated up to start the second quarter, shooting 66.7 percent halfway through the quarter, and finished 8-for-16 in the frame. Guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough narrowed the UConn lead to 22-21 with about six minutes to go in the half.
UConn increased its lead as the first half came to a close, as Nurse hit two 3-pointers to push the lead to 36-27, but the Terps got within five at intermission.
The Terps kept the first half close despite slow starts from Jones and Walker-Kimbrough, although they finished the half with eight and six points, respectively. Charles finished the half with 10 points, and Slocum added four points and four assists. Nurse and Williams led the Huskies in the first half with 10 points apiece.
UConn's five-point lead ballooned to 19 after the first two-and-a-half minutes of the third quarter. Nurse's shooting success continued, as she hit a 3-pointer to open the third quarter before adding another with about seven minutes left in the frame, forcing Maryland to call a timeout. During the 5-for-5 shooting start for the Huskies, Samuelson completed UConn's second four-point play after Watson fouled her.
Jones pointed out the need to play through every possession and not take any plays off.
"In the third quarter, we relaxed a little bit," Jones said. "They sort of answered that, and we have to be cognitive of that and do better to stop their runs."
Samuelson, the Huskies' leading scorer entering the contest, had 12 in the quarter. Her success came despite an illness that nearly kept her out of the contest.
"She was sick, she was throwing up in a trash can over at the side, and then she comes out and gives that kind of performance in the second half," Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. "It was a gutsy performance by her."
Jones opened the fourth quarter with a basket and a steal, running the length of the court to give the Terps two quick buckets. The Huskies started 0 of 4 as Maryland cut the lead to 68-61 with about seven minutes to go in the game. Following UConn's timeout, Samuelson hit a three to push the game back to double digits.
Slocum led the comeback bid with five second half threes, but the Terps could not make up the deficit. They shot 5-for-20 from beyond the arc as a team.
The Terps came within five points on four occasions in the final period but could not get any closer as the Huskies picked up their seventh victory over a ranked opponent this season.
"Most teams would have quit," Frese said of the 19-point deficit following halftime. "There's no quit in this team, but we just can't spot a team like UConn 19 points."