COLLEGE PARK — Coming into Monday night’s second round NCAA tournament game against Michigan State, junior forward Alyssa Thomas knew she needed to take control of the game early.
“We thought it was really important to throw the knockout punch early and take their confidence,” Thomas said.
And the fourth-seeded Maryland Terrapins did, cruising to a 74-49 win over the fifth-seeded Spartans thanks to Thomas’ 28-point performance.
The two-time ACC Player of the Year inspired her team’s big win early in the night by scoring 18 of Maryland’s 34 first half points.
“Alyssa Thomas won the game in the first half,” Michigan State Coach Suzy Merchant said following her team’s loss.
Thomas made 12 of 18 shots for a game high 28 points. She nailed shots from the perimeter and had a commanding presence in the paint. She played aggressive defense and forced turnovers.
Everywhere the Spartans looked, there was Thomas.
The Spartans said they had prepared for Monday’s game at the Comcast Center by watching footage of Thomas. But sophomore forward Becca Mills said Thomas made many more shots in a row on the court then she made in the video.
“(Thomas) came at us and we couldn’t find a way to stop her,” Mills said.
Thomas is the Terrapins’ centerpiece, a versatile 6 foot 2 inch forward who regularly dribbles the ball up court in fast breaks like a point guard.
Her teammate, redshirt junior guard Katie Rutan — Maryland’s second leading scorer with 18 points on the night — said Thomas is great at creating chances for herself and others. Thomas finished the game with three assists.
Rutan said that when teams collapse on Thomas, “she’s always going to find the open person.”
“She’s a great scorer, but she’s also a great facilitator,” Rutan said.
Her ability to set the team’s pace and make her team better has been even more crucial in a season characterized by injuries. The expected starting backcourt of sophomore guard Brene Moseley and junior guard Laurin Mincy suffered season-ending knee injuries in October and November, respectively.
Time and time again during the game, the Terrapins would make steals or grab rebounds and immediately look for Thomas.
Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said she and her staff have been talking recently about how dominant Thomas has been in postseason play.
“I know all tournament long they talk about the three players to see,” Frese said about other women’s basketball standouts. “Maybe at some point there’ll be four to see, and people will start to talk about what Alyssa Thomas has done.”
With the win Monday, Maryland is undefeated against Michigan State in three meetings. Starting in 2014, the two will see a lot more of each other when the Terrapins join the Big Ten.
The Terrapins will travel north to Bridgeport, Conn., to take on the top-seeded Connecticut Huskies in the round of 16 Saturday.
The two met earlier in the season in a non-conference game, which Connecticut won 63-48.
Frese said her team is not as deep as Geno Auriemma’s Huskies.
“We have to go in like we did, with the mindset, with great confidence, (and play) a complete 40-minute game. We have to be better,” Frese said. “There’s a lot we have to do against the numerous All-Americans they have on their roster.”