After guard Kaila Charles made a layup just over five minutes into the Maryland women's basketball team's contest at Virginia on Wednesday, the Terps took a 14-13 lead. For nearly 26 minutes, they appeared to be on their way to victory over the Cavaliers, who entered the game 3-4.
But early in the fourth quarter, Virginia guard J'Kyra Brown leveled the score at 51-51 with a jumper. About a minute later, guard Aliyah Huland El gave the Cavaliers their first lead since Charles' layup with a 3-pointer.
However, the Terps remained calm and relied on their leaders' clutch plays — as well as the emergence of others — to edge the Cavaliers, 60-59, in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
"[There were] some critical possessions there," coach Brenda Frese said. "I thought we didn't hang our heads, especially when they hit a big three and went up with the score. I thought we were able to keep our poise and our composure, for the most part."
The Huland El shot capped an 11-0 run by Virginia, during which Frese said the Cavaliers' aggressiveness took advantage of Maryland's young guard play and "really bothered" the No. 15 Terps (6-2). But the run didn't completely stifle Maryland, thanks to one of the team's veteran backcourt players.
Kristen Confroy is one of two seniors and the only one who has been at Maryland for four seasons. Before the season, Frese said Confroy would be a key leader, and the Solon, Ohio, native demonstrated that Wednesday.
Following Huland El's triple, each team missed a field goal before Confroy, with forward Lauren Moses' hand in her face, drained a 3-pointer to equalize. Players on Maryland's bench stood up with their arms raised in celebration after the senior leader gave them an escape route with 6:30 remaining in the contest.
With 40 seconds remaining and the Terps trailing by a point, Charles — the only returning starter alongside Confroy — made a left-handed layup in traffic to give the Terps a crucial lead.
"Big plays from your veterans," Frese said. "That's where you talk about the experience paying off with both Kaila and Kristen, and as you're kind of seeing, some of the painful growing pains with our young team in other positions."
Frese also singled out forward Stephanie Jones, who tied a team high with 13 points, including a layup sandwiched between Confroy's and Charles' shots to give Maryland a 57-56 lead.
Jones played a minor role as a freshman last year, but she's started every game so far this season and set her career high in points three times already, with her best a 24-point outburst against Howard.
When Jones was guarding 6-foot-9 center Felicia Aiyeotan and one foul away from fouling out, Frese chose to keep her in the game, a decision that paid off with her performance down the stretch.
"We were fortunate Steph Jones showed up for us tonight," Frese said. "She was huge with her presence in every shape of what we could get tonight, with her toughness and her tenacity."
Jones was one of several Terps on the roster who hadn't been in many back-and-forth situations at the end of a game before this year. Other than Maryland's near-comeback against South Carolina on Nov. 13, that scenario had hardly presented itself to the young roster.
"Learning from the South Carolina game and then, games last year, I wasn't necessarily in the game but [it helped] being in that situation with our team and just learning from it," Jones said. "I think that helped today, and for the whole team too."