COLLEGE PARK – After hitting a 3-pointer to give the University of Maryland women’s basketball team an 18-point lead over Michigan State, freshman point guard Chloe Pavlech turned to the crowd and shrugged her shoulders.
It was just one of those nights for the fourth-seeded Terps (26-7), who the beat the fifth-seeded Spartans 74-49 in the second round of the NCAA tournament to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the fourth time in five years.
“It’s fun to be silly and celebrate, so that’s what I was doing,” said Pavlech, who scored eight points and added six assists with only one turnover. “Everything was just going our way tonight, so it was great.”
Michigan State (25-9) had no answer for the high-octane Maryland offense that averaged 74.7 points per game this season.
Maryland star forward Alyssa Thomas took control early and dominated throughout the game, finishing with 28 points. The junior almost equaled her season average of 18.7 points per game in the first half with 18 points.
“Alyssa Thomas won the game in the first half,” Michigan State head coach Suzy Merchant said. “The game was over in the first half.”
Thomas, a two-time All American and back-to-back ACC player of the year, went 12-for-18 and scored early and often, bringing the crowd at the Comcast Center to its feet with every twisting layup.
“It’s tournament time, and you don’t want to go home,” Thomas said.
Junior guard Katie Rutan added 18 points for the Terps, while All-ACC First Team forward Tianna Hawkins scored 12.
Michigan State sophomore forward Becca Mills and junior forward Annalise Pickrel led the Spartans with 12 points each.
The Spartans scored the first field goal, but never regained the lead. Maryland led by as many as 29 points in the second half.
“This was one of the best games we’ve played all season,” Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said.
The high-scoring Maryland team started off slow with a foul and turnover, but raced to a 22-13 lead behind Thomas, who had 10 points in the first 12 minutes of the game.
The Terps, with the ACC leading offense, increased to a 30-15 advantage over the Spartans with four minutes left before halftime.
Michigan State closed the gap to 30-21 with a short jumper by Pickrel, who led the Spartans with 7 points in the first half.
The Terps continued to pull ahead and took a 34-23 lead into the locker room.
After the intermission, Thomas picked up right where she left off, scoring the first field goal for the Terps and then assisting Hawkins to push the lead to 38-27.
Maryland will play No. 1 seed University of Connecticut on March 30 in Bridgeport, Conn., an hour north of the Huskies’ home court. Connecticut beat No. 8 seed Vanderbilt 77-44 in the other Bridgeport Regional second-round game Monday night.
The Huskies beat the Terps 63-48 earlier this season when the teams met at the Jimmy V Classic in December.
“Both teams, I think, are a lot different now than they were then,” Frese said. “I think we’re thinner in terms of our depth compared to where they’re at. We have to go in like we did with the mindset, with great confidence in a 40-minute game.”