COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — Perhaps by the end of the season, Maryland will improve enough to make a run at beating Connecticut.
At this point, the eighth-ranked Terrapins aren’t even close — in terms of talent, depth or quickness.
Breanna Stewart scored 26 points, and top-ranked Connecticut pulled away to a 72-55 victory on Friday night.
The short-handed Huskies (3-0) used a 13-2 run early in the second half to take a 56-45 lead, and Maryland (2-1) never get closer than nine points.
Alyssa Thomas had 20 points and 14 rebounds for the Terrapins, who lost to UConn twice last season — on the road, 63-48, and in the NCAA tournament (76-50).
This defeat, on their home court, was just as lopsided.
“Third game of the season,” Terps coach Brenda Frese said. “This game, I said all along, wasn’t going to make or break our season. It was going to give us a good measuring stick of where we’re at on Nov. 15. So I can thank UConn in terms of helping us in terms of what we need to get better at.”
Maryland played well enough for about 22 minutes. But after Katie Rutan sank a 3-pointer to tie it at 43, UConn outscored the Terrapins 29-12 the rest of the way.
“Obviously a missed opportunity for us, but they’re the defending champions for a reason,” Frese said.
Connecticut was without two of its best players, preseason All-American Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and sophomore forward Morgan Tuck. Mosqueda-Lewis injured her elbow against Stanford, and Tuck is expected to miss at least a month after undergoing right knee surgery Tuesday.
Stewart and the fleet-footed backcourt duo of Bria Hartley and Moriah Jefferson made up for the absence of the two stars, and it didn’t matter that UConn center Stefanie Dolson picked up her fourth foul with 16:11 remaining.
“We played through a lot of stuff,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “If I had my druthers, I’d rather have 10 healthy players than seven, but tonight, the seven that we had for the most part played great.”
Jefferson had 15 points and four assists, and Hartley contributed 10 points and six assists. Just as important, the Huskies finished with only six turnovers.
“Even when we have heavy adversity, we’re still playing Connecticut basketball and we’re going to come out and get a win,” Stewart said.
It was Connecticut’s second win over a Top 10 team in a five-day span. The Huskies breezed past No. 3 Stanford by 19 points on Monday.
Maryland certainly isn’t the first team to be overwhelmed by Connecticut’s talent, even when the Huskies are missing a couple of players.
“I said this all along: They went from nine All-Americans to seven,” Frese said. “If they lose a couple more, Geno might have to coach like the rest of us.”
Although the Huskies fought foul trouble and had the potential to tire in the second half with a reduced roster, they actually improved as the game went along.
“I thought defensively, we were just a little bit better,” Auriemma said. “For us to hold a team like Maryland to 17 points in a half, that says a lot about how we competed on the defensive end.”
The game was tied at 43 before Stewart scored off her own miss, Dolson made two straight baskets and Jefferson sank a layup. Thomas ended the run with a jumper, but two free throws by Stewart and a 3-pointer by Brianna Banks gave the Huskies a comfortable 11-point cushion.
Banks twisted her left ankle late in the first half but returned to score seven of her nine points after halftime.
Connecticut has won 49 consecutive games in November and improved to 36-9 against teams in the Top 10 since the start of the 2008-09 season. The Huskies will next face No. 13 Penn State on the road Sunday.
Stewart scored 19 points in the first half to stake Connecticut to a 44-38 lead. Thomas had a double-double before the break, scoring 14 with 10 rebounds.
Over the first nine minutes, there were four ties and nine lead changes. Thomas and Stewart traded baskets in the early-going, accounting for all the points in a 7-7 tie.
The Huskies created some separation with an 8-0 run for a 23-17 lead. Thomas answered hit two straight jumpers, and Maryland closed to 30-29 before Stewart nailed a 3-pointer to keep UConn in front.
“We had no answer for Stewart,” Frese said.
Maryland went ahead 36-35 while Stewart was on the bench, but the Huskies closed the half with six straight points.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)