Maryland, Destiny have date in Connecticut

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — When the Women’s NCAA Tournament bracket was announced, few schools had reason to be as aggrieved as Maryland. A top-five ranked team all season long, the Terps were dealt a 3 seed. To make matters worse, 2-seed Duke loomed in their bracket as a potential Sweet 16 opponent. Get past the Blue Devils and their reward would be the Sisyphean task of ending UConn’s would-be 110-game winning streak on their home floor in Storrs, Connecticut.

But fate has intervened, as it does in March, changing the landscape. And even with all eyes on the Huskies’ attempt at another perfect season, the Terps have stolen the spotlight for themselves a bit in this tournament, thanks to Destiny.

That would be Destiny Slocum, the freshman sharpshooter who caught everyone’s attention with this jaw-dropping, soccer-style overhead throw that found the bottom of the net ahead of the halftime buzzer in Maryland’s 83-56 second-round win over 6-seed West Virginia.

While the team attempts long-range shots after practice, this one was pure improvisation.

“I can throw it from half-court, but I didn’t think I could get it from there all the way across the court,” she said after practice Wednesday on campus. “I think the overhead pass was the way to go.”

The 5-foot-7 Big Ten Freshman of the Year has been a steady force on more conventional shots from behind the arc all season long. Her 71 three-point makes are just one fewer than senior Shatori Walker-Kimbrough. She’s hit at least three triples 15 times and has knocked down five in three games this year, including Maryland’s 87-81 loss to UConn, where she matched the Huskies’ Katie Lou Samuelson with a game-high 23 points along with seven assists.

An Idaho native, Slocum has become an internet hero the past week following her three-quarter court magic trick. But an unexpected turn of events — Duke’s shocking loss at home to 10-seed Oregon — had put Slocum in the spotlight back on campus for other reasons. The Ducks are loaded with freshmen, most from the West Coast, many of whom Slocum played against in AAU ball growing up.

“I know the coaching staff pretty well,” she said, adding that she had a campus visit during recruitment. “(They’re a) really good three-point shooting team. Their freshmen are fearless, can all knock down really good shots.”

Sound familiar?

While Walker-Kimbrough and Brionna Jones are the unquestioned senior leaders, sometimes it takes a hot hand to pull off a miracle in March. If the Terps get past Oregon Saturday, they’ll have a date with UConn on its home floor Monday. Since that nail-biter in College Park, the Huskies have played only one game decided by single digits.

The environment in Storrs will be heavily tilted the other direction from the one in College Park back in late December. Only 100 tickets were made available to Maryland fans, an issue men’s teams don’t face with the neutral sites of their championship rounds. If Maryland has any chance to do the unthinkable, they’ll probably only get one shot to pull it off.

It’s the last few minutes of practice, the Terps’ final one before boarding an Amtrak train bound for Connecticut and whatever fate it brings in the morning. They’re running an end-of-game scenario, down three points with five seconds to play, needing a shot from behind the arc to keep their season alive. Slocum peels off the curl around a screen at the top of the key, pulling up several feet behind the arc, a hand in her face on the contested shot. The ball catches the front rim softly, then the back, the buzzer sounding through an empty Xfinity Center as it hangs, weightless above the cylinder, then falls through.

You can call it a lucky shot if you want — it still counts. The team erupts in celebration, perhaps a practice in and of itself.

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