Nothing Quinnipiac experienced while steamrolling the Northeast Conference could adequately prepare the Bobcats for their NCAA tournament debut against Maryland.
After getting off to a fine start, Quinnipiac withered under a barrage of rebounds and baskets by the taller Terrapins, who advanced to the second round with a 72-52 victory Saturday.
Felicia Barron scored 13 for No. 13 seed Quinnipiac (30-3), the NEC champions. The Bobcats were unbeaten since a 74-57 defeat against Georgia Tech on Dec. 29.
But none of those 22 teams had the height or talent of the Terrapins (25-7), who finished tied for second in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"They're a lot longer than we are, that's for sure," Quinnipiac forward Brittany McQuain said. "If we had played against those bodies all year long we definitely would have been more prepared."
Clearly, no one in the NEC can match Maryland's 1-2 punch of Alyssa Thomas (29 points, 13 rebounds) and Tianna Hawkins (23 points, 16 rebounds).
"They are great players," McQuain said. "Let me tell you what, Thomas is outstanding. She is very comfortable with the ball. Being on the floor with talent like that is kind of humbling. We did really extremely well in the NEC, not losing a game, and then coming here and playing against a really good ACC team kind of opens our eyes a little bit."
The fourth-seeded Terrapins trailed by nine in the first half, scrambled to go up 27-23 at the break and dominated the second half against the smaller Bobcats, who couldn't stop Thomas' repeated forays into the lane.
"You just give her the ball and let her go to work," Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. "She's like a life vest — she can bail out anyone and anything. You saw her versatility. She was able to change the game. They didn't have an answer."
Despite the loss, the Bobcats were delighted to become the first Quinnipiac women's basketball team to play in the NCAA tournament.
"This is clearly a top 10 team that was a different level that we hadn't seen, but this was the stage we were ready for," Bobcats coach Tricia Fabbri said of Maryland. "We have now set a new standard and raised the level of excellence for this program going forward."
Quinnipiac played well for much of the first half, but very little went right for the Bobcats after that. Maryland opened the second half with a 14-3 run to go up 41-26, and Quinnipiac couldn't score with enough consistency to make up the difference.
"I don't think they've seen a team like us, that's able to rebound and run," Thomas said. "They found it very hard to match up with all of us."
During the first 10 minutes after the break, Quinnipiac was 2 for 22 from the floor while being outscored 22-9. The Bobcats finished with a 23 percent field-goal percentage on 17-for-74 shooting.
"We just couldn't put the ball in the basket," lamented guard Gillian Abshire, who had more turnovers than baskets (2-1).
Both teams had 22 rebounds at halftime, but Maryland finished with a 59-41 advantage. Alicia DeVaughn grabbed a career-high 17 for the Terps.
"I think we were able to wear them down. You could see that in the second half," Frese said. "We still wanted to continue to push tempo. Obviously we were disappointed in our rebounding at halftime. Credit them. They were physical, and I thought they gave us their best punch in the first half. But I do think our size, our physicality, our length, athleticism, Alyssa Thomas got to them. She gives you about three extra bodies out there in terms of her play."
Thomas scored 12 points on 6-for-9 shooting in a shaky first half for the Terrapins, who needed a closing 15-2 run to take the lead.
The 11:15 a.m. start produced shoddy play by both teams at the outset. Although the Bobcats missed seven of their first eight shots, Maryland started 4 for 20 from the floor. The Terrapins trailed 21-12 before Thomas made a layup to spark a 9-0 spurt that included five points by Hawkins.
Maryland went 1 for 9 from beyond the arc in the first half. Quinnipiac's Ellen Cannon connected on all three of her 3-point tries before halftime.