SPOKANE, Wash. — Lexie Brown felt the need to apologize.
Every shot she took in the regional semifinals failed to fall through the net and even though Maryland advanced, she believed an expression of regret was in order.
Words weren’t needed. Brown’s actions on Monday night were plenty, helping lead Maryland back to the Final Four for the second straight year and pushing aside Tennessee to get there yet again.
“Any elite athlete owns their mistakes, you have to learn from the experience and move forward, get better,” Brown said.
Brown scored 13 of her 15 points in the second half, Brionna Jones added 14 points and nine rebounds and top-seeded Maryland advanced to its second straight Final Four with a 58-48 win over Tennessee on Monday in the Spokane Regional final.
Brown hit three 3-pointers in the second half as the Terrapins (34-2) overcame their lowest-scoring first half of the season to knock out Tennessee from the NCAAs for the second straight year.
Last year, it was an upset of the Lady Vols in the round of 16. This time, Maryland was the favorite and played as such, closing the game on a 17-4 run and holding Tennessee to just one field goal over the final 5 minutes.
Shatori Walker-Kimbrough added 12 points for the Terrapins, who won their 28th straight game.
It’s the fifth Final Four appearance for the Terrapins and third under coach Brenda Frese. Next up for the Terrapins: Connecticut in the national semifinals. The Terrapins lost to Notre Dame in last year’s national semis.
“It kind of went through each and every player on this team in terms of stepping up and wanting to make plays for us,” Frese said.
No one proved more valuable than Brown, the sophomore point guard that spent much of the regional semifinal victory over Duke on the bench after missing all seven shots and finishing with one point.
Her first 3-pointer gave Maryland a 37-34 lead and was part of a 10-0 run after Tennessee had taken a five-point lead early in the second half. Her second 3 pulled the Terrapins even at 44 after the Lady Vols surged back in front.
And her last 3-pointer with 4:29 left gave Maryland the lead for good at 47-46. The Terrapins scored seven straight points and Tennessee never recovered.
“After I hit that one shot, like I said, once one goes in, the basket grows and it’s as big as an ocean,” Brown said. “So for that shot to drop that was a huge turning point for me and for my confidence and my mentality.”
Ariel Massengale led Tennessee (30-6) with 16 points, but the Lady Vols missed their chance at reaching the Final Four for the first time since 2008.
Tennessee’s focus all season had been on getting back to the Final Four, which just so happened to be in Tampa, Florida this season, the site of the Lady Vols’ most recent Final Four appearance and most recent national title.
That task became far more difficult when leading scorer Isabelle Harrison was lost for the season to a knee injury in February.
Tennessee showed resiliency in the aftermath of Harrison’s injury and again in the Sweet 16, rallying from 17 down with less than 7 minutes remaining to beat hometown Gonzaga in overtime.
But the Lady Vols’ run ended against the Terrapins.
“I think we kind of wore down a little bit,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. “They hit big shots.”
Brown’s layup with 1:10 left gave Maryland a 51-46 lead but Tennessee still had a chance. Massengale answered for Tennessee and the Lady Vols’ press forced a turnover. But Burdick’s attempt at a tying 3-pointer was short and went out of bounds with 41.9 seconds left and Maryland hit 7 of 8 free throws in the final minute.
“I really felt like the second half we were, once we were able to make a few of those runs, you could see kind of the separation of our confidence really take off,” Frese said. “They did not want to be denied.”