LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- If it's all the same to the rest of us, Alyssa Thomas would like to request that the discussion about the best player never to reach a Final Four continue without her. She is going to play on the season's final weekend.
Thomas totaled 22 points and 13 rebounds and got help from senior Katie Rutan's 3-point shooting and freshman Lexie Brown's composure as No. 4 seed Maryland overcame a four-point halftime deficit to beat No. 3 seed Louisville 76-73.
Key stat: Turnovers. Maryland survived a lot of its turnovers in the first half. Louisville couldn't overcome a bunch of its own making in the second half. The teams finished almost level in turnovers -- 25 for Maryland and 21 for Louisville -- but that marked just the third time since a loss against Kentucky on Dec. 1 that Louisville turned it over as many as 20 times. It was indicative of a night, specifically a second half, when things were just a little bit off until it was too late.
Turning point: Within a minute of the start of the second half, Louisville had pushed a 36-32 edge at the break to a 41-34 lead and warmed up the very large and very partisan crowd in the KFC Yum! Center with a couple of big plays -- a potential three-point play from Shoni Schimmel (she missed the free throw) and a conventional 3-pointer from Antonita Slaughter. It felt like the moment when the Cardinals might take control of the game. It wasn't.
The Terrapins got a quick basket inside from Alicia DeVaughn, then a tip steal and layup from Thomas and let Louisville sow the seeds of its own demise with some bad decisions and careless turnovers.
It wasn't a run with a signature moment -- the entire game was ragged -- but by the time Louisville coach Jeff Walz called a timeout with 11:15 to play, the Terrapins had put together an 18-4 stretch that put them up by seven points.
Not without a fight: While Louisville didn't get the deficit to a single possession until 14 seconds remained, Schimmel never stopped shooting. A 3-pointer with a little more than a minute to play could have trimmed the lead to three points. One she did hit, fading away in the corner, cut the margin to five points with 29 seconds left. So did a pull-up from NBA range with 17 seconds left, a shot that was followed by Louisville regaining possession of the ball and going to the free throw line. And the rainmaker she launched from a few steps inside half court with 4 seconds left cut the margin to two points.
With 3.5 seconds on the clock, Louisville finally had its chance to pull level. Running the same hook-and-ladder play the Valparaiso men memorably used years ago to set up a Bryce Drew winner against Ole Miss in the NCAA tournament, Schimmel got a good look from just in front of her team's bench. It didn't go.
Schimmel's 31 points on 12-of-29 shooting with five rebounds and four assists was the senior at her boldest and brashest. Some of the moves and some of the shots were those only she would take, but that's one of the reasons she has been such a special player the past four seasons. As the ball bounded away after her last miss, she had a smile on her face.
It's a good way to remember her.