COLLEGE PARK — — A little more than a week ago, the Maryland women's basketball team had been rampaging through its schedule as if were bent on advancing deep into March. The Terrapins had won six straight Atlantic Coast Conference games, including a blowout of then-No. 10 North Carolina, and were cresting fast with the ACC tournament not far down the line.
They were playing so well that three of their four most recent conference victories at that time came by an average of nearly 28 points, inducing thoughts of winning out and securing perhaps a No. 2 seed in the NCAAs.
What followed instead were consecutive losses that have dealt an acute blow to Maryland's hopes not only for a high seed in the national tournament but also for one of the coveted top four spots in the ACC tournament. Those seeds get a bye in the first round and thus have to play a maximum of three games as opposed to potentially four in as many days.
The 16th-ranked Terps (20-5, 6-4) are sixth in the ACC, a half-game behind Georgia Tech and a game and a half behind the Tar Heels, leaving little if any margin for error the rest of the way.
The good news is that Maryland owns the tiebreaker with victories over both those teams and has a pair of ranked teams — Duke and Florida State — remaining that will elevate its RPI. The less appealing reality is its next opponent tonight is No. 7 Duke, which has one conference loss and has won four in a row against the Terps, including 71-64 at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Jan. 6.
"This stretch of games is by far one of our toughest," Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. "This is the way it ends in conference play. This is what was laid out, but they're all opportunities for us to improve and get better and try to get some momentum going into the ACC tournament."
Turnovers have been in large part to blame for the Terps' recent travails. Maryland had 23 in an 83-75 loss at then-No. 20 Miami. Twenty of those turnovers came in the first half, when the Terps trailed by 14 at intermission.
In a 60-57 loss to Virginia on Sunday, Maryland had 17 turnovers, slightly below its season average, but lost the ball at critical times. The Terps held a 54-50 lead with 4 minutes, 39 seconds to play, but the Cavaliers thereafter limited Maryland to one field goal. In the final 1:45, the Terps committed a pair of costly turnovers.
For the season, Maryland is 10th out of 12 teams in turnover margin in conference games. Among ACC teams ranked in the Top 25 at any point this season, Maryland's minus-1.2 turnover margin is the highest.
"We have to have a sense of urgency," junior guard Anjalé Barrett said. "It's not like the beginning of the season where we had a lot of games to look forward to. We only have four games left, five guaranteed, so we have to have a sense of urgency, and we have to understand the season is almost over, and if we want to keep playing, we've got to bring that energy to the court."
Duke, meantime, leads the conference in assists-to-turnover ratio and is second in turnover margin. The Blue Devils' only losses this season were to second-ranked Connecticut, 87-51, and 62-60 to archrival North Carolina. Their average margin of victory in conference games is 23 points, and that includes a 65-64 win against North Carolina State.
In Maryland's last meeting against Duke on Jan. 6, the Terrapins took a two-point lead on junior center Lynetta Kizer's layup with 2:39 to play before Jasmine Thomas carried the Blue Devils to victory. The senior guard made a 3-pointer with 1:55 to play that gave Duke the lead for good, then scored four more points to seal it.
"We've got to finish it," Frese said. "We're at home in front of our great fans. We played a tremendous game down there. We just didn't finish it. We have to understand it's going to take a 40-minute game."