As she backpedaled toward the defensive end, Thomas flashed a grin -- only slightly less rare a sight from her in the middle of a big game than Haley's Comet is in the night sky -- and pointed an index finger at Mincy.
Nice to have you back, the gesture seemed to say.
Mincy wasn't available when Maryland reached the Sweet 16 a season ago. An ACL tear placed her on a long list of injured players that decimated the team's bench and left those who remained exhausted by the time the Terrapins, again a No. 4 seed, lost by 16 points against Connecticut in the Sweet 16. Thomas played 39 minutes in that game, only slightly more than the 34.2 she averaged on the season. With Mincy and Brene Moseley back on the court this season and with Brown and fellow freshmen Brionna Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough around, she is playing almost four minutes less per game this season.
Add up nearly five months of four-minute increments and you come up with a player who had plenty left in her legs when she needed to take over in the second half.
"I just feel like this year we have so much more," Thomas said of the depth. "Last year we didn't really have any subs, and now this year we can send so many waves at them. It makes it so much easier."
One of those breathers she got this time around came through much of that important 13-2 run in the first half. Instead of Thomas, it was Walker-Kimbrough and Mincy who provided the points. Mincy finished with 11 points and five rebounds in 24 minutes, in all three cases matching or exceeding her best totals in more than a month.
The timing couldn't be better for a player who scored 21 points in a Sweet 16 win against Texas A&M two years ago and 24 points in a win against Louisville the round before that.
"I'm feeling really good," Mincy said. "I had time to refocus a couple of weeks ago. [Getting back in the flow was] just staying confident throughout the season and being patient. I think patience has gotten me where I am right now."
All due respect to Mincy, but the fourth-year junior trails Louisville's Taylor and Gibbs on the patience leaderboard. Both could only watch as the Cardinals upset Baylor and made their run to the championship game a season ago. In the case of Gibbs, it was the second season in a row and the third in four tries that she sat out. Sunday, Gibbs hit five 3-pointers, matching her season high, for a team that hit 12 3-pointers in all and blew the game open in the first half on long distance shots. Taylor finished with seven points, 10 rebounds and three assists and, as usual, was arguably the most important single cog in defensive pressure that held LSU players other than Ballard to four field goals.
Louisville is a much better 3-point shooting team this season than it was a season ago. It is also a better defensive team. Again, we're not talking about coincidences here.
"It's been nothing but positive," Louisville's Sara Hammond said of their dual returns this season. "Asia is just an athletic mismatch for post players. She's developed a jump shot now, so people have to respect her jump shot. And she's so quick and athletic that she can take you off the bounce. And she rebounds like no other. Then you have Tia Gibbs, who steps up today and knocks down 3s to provide more of a threat from the outside -- it's not just Shoni and [Antonita Slaughter] this year.
"They've provided positive things for our team and they've stepped up and been leaders."