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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Alyssa Thomas scored a career-high 33 points and grabbed 13 rebounds as fourth-seeded Maryland upset No. 1 seed Tennessee 73-62 today in the Louisville Region semifinal.
The Terrapins (27-6) reached their ninth regional final and first since 2012. They did it against a program the Terps had beaten only four times previously and never before in the NCAA tournament. Maryland improved to 5-10 against Tennessee (29-6) with a little revenge for their previous tournament loss in the 1989 Final Four.
The Lady Vols’ self-titled “GrindFor9” in their chase for a ninth national championship is over. They will miss the Final Four for a sixth straight season. This hurts even more with the national championship game being played April 8 in Nashville just 179 miles from their home in Knoxville.
Meighan Simmons scored 31 points for Tennessee.
Thomas scored the most points allowed to a single player by Tennessee this season, and she also extended her school record with her 65th career double-double. Lexie Brown added 14 points, Laurin Mincy had 11 and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough 10.
Maryland will face either Louisville or LSU on Tuesday night with a trip to the Final Four at stake. The Terps haven’t been back there since winning the national championship in 2006.
Jasmine Jones also had 11 points for Tennessee, which had won 15 of its last 16 games. Andraya Carter covered her face with her jersey, while another Lady Vol walked off with a towel over her head.
Maryland coach Brenda Frese waved to the pep band as she went to the locker room with a couple of hugs along the way in celebration.
The Terrapins trailed only once at 3-2 before taking control for good using a 13-2 spurt. Maryland dominated inside with a 38-28 scoring edge in the paint, and the Terrapins also outrebounded Tennessee 38-28. The only place the Lady Vols dominated was at the free throw line, hitting more there (20 of 27) than from the floor (19 of 53).
Maryland led 41-27 at halftime, the biggest deficit Tennessee had faced all season. The Lady Vols rallied from double digits in each of their games to win the Southeastern Conference tournament title, but they found themselves needing the biggest comeback for this program since Jan. 3, 2009, when they beat Rutgers after trailing by 23.
The Terrapins pushed their lead to as much as 18 when Thomas scored to put the Terrapins up 51-33 with 12:11 left. Tennessee finally put together its best stretch of the game but couldn’t get closer than eight with Simmons scoring 17 in the second half trying to spark the rally. Each time the Lady Vols scored, Maryland, or rather Thomas, responded with bucket after bucket.
When Thomas didn’t score, she had the assist on a nice pass to Mincy for a big 3-pointer with 5:16 remaining to put Maryland back up 65-53.
The Lady Vols can blame themselves though for a sloppy game with 22 turnovers, too many of them unforced mistakes where they simply lost the ball. Maryland turned those into 19 points.