TAMPA, Florida — Maryland coach Brenda Frese wouldn't let a disappointing loss dampen a tremendous season for the Terrapins.
Like most other teams this season, Frese's squad couldn't find a way to hang with UConn for 40 minutes in an 81-58 loss on Sunday night in the Final Four.
It was the second straight season that Maryland fell short in the national semifinals.
"I'm proud of our fight," Frese said. "Like I told the team in the locker room, look at a season and go 34-3 and look two of the three losses coming from teams playing for the national championship. That's a heck of a season."
Maryland (34-3) went undefeated in its inaugural season in the Big Ten and won a school-record 28 straight games before the loss to UConn. The Terrapins also made it back to the Final Four for a second straight season.
"The next progression is where Notre Dame's gotten themselves to," Frese said. "That's the next step for us. Consistency factor was the key to getting back to back. I'm really excited when you talk about our future. We're graduating one senior and to have the sophomore class come back, I'm really excited."
Maryland's only loss to graduation will be Laurin Mincy, who had just three points against UConn.
"I'm speechless when I talk about Laurin," Frese said. "Everything she's contributed over the years. ... It's the last game for her and hurts my heart."
Mincy was proud of all she's done in her time at Maryland despite falling short.
"I'm disappointed," she said. "We wanted to come in here and shock the world and get this win. I'm proud of how my team competed this game and all season. I can't wait to see what's in store for them."
The Terrapins just had no answer for Breanna Stewart and Morgan Tuck. Stewart scored 25 points and Tuck added 24.
The Huskies are 9-0 in title games and a victory over the Irish would tie Auriemma with vaunted UCLA men's coach John Wooden for the most all-time with 10. It would also be the second three-peat for UConn, which won three straight championships from 2002-04. The last two titles came against Tennessee, marking the only other time that there was a repeat championship game in the history of the NCAA Tournament.
Making the Final Four seems like a rite of spring for the Huskies (37-1) lately as the team has appeared in the last eight national semifinals.
UConn had cruised through the NCAA Tournament, but Frese said her team wouldn't be intimidated by the Huskies.
"I think the biggest thing against Maryland is they can break you down with their guard play, and then they're so big inside," Auriemma said. "If you make a mistake on their guards, you've got the big guys to deal with. We needed to try and make sure that we only gave up one thing, that we didn't give up both. So we tried to concentrate on taking away their 3s, which they're really good at. And then try to create some mismatches on this end with Tuck and Stewie because I thought that's where we had the advantage."
The Terrapins took it right at them from the start, hanging with UConn for the first 10 minutes. Maryland only trailed 22-19 before UConn scored seven straight points capped by Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis' 3-pointer that made it a 10-point game. Maryland (34-3) didn't back down getting back and pulled within 39-33 on Lexie Brown's 3-pointer with 1:52 left in the half.
Then Tuck took over.
She scored the final five points of the half to give the Huskies a double-digit advantage going into the break.
Tuck missed last season's championship run while she was recovering from microfracture surgery on her right knee that allowed her to only play in eight games. The redshirt sophomore made her presence felt on the game's biggest stage, finishing just two points short of her career high.
Brionna Jones scored 14 points and Lexie Brown added 12 to lead the Terrapins.
Brown had some extra support at the game as her father, former NBA slam dunk champion, Dee Brown was in attendance. He is an assistant coach with the Sacramento Kings and was able to skip their game Sunday and see his daughter play.
He was sitting near former Celtics teammate Pervis Ellison, whose daughter Aja also plays for the Terrapins. Former NFL star Donovan McNabb was also in the crowd cheering on his niece Kia Nurse, who is a freshman at UConn.
The former athletes weren't the only stars at the game. Three-time Academy Award nominee Tom Cruise was sitting in a suite, though it wasn't clear who he was rooting for.
Follow Doug on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/dougfeinberg
All content copyright ©2015 Daily Journal, a division of Home News Enterprises unless otherwise noted.