The UConn men’s basketball team will square off with Maryland in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday night at 7:10 p.m. on CBS. UConn is a No. 7 seed in the East Region while Maryland is a No. 10 seed. Both teams had solid seasons, with UConn finishing third in the Big East in its first year back, while Maryland finished tied for eighth in a completely stacked Big 10 that sent nine teams to the dance.
UConn is slightly favored to win, but this is really anyone’s game. My column today isn’t to predict or preview this upcoming matchup. Rather, it’s to look at the history between these two storied programs.
The Huskies and the Terrapins have played each other seven times over the years, which isn’t a lot, but a couple of them have been huge games in the NCAA Tournament. So there’s definitely some history worth talking about here.
To start, we have to go all the way back to before the United States got involved in World War II. The first matchup between these teams came on Feb. 15, 1941. At that time, Maryland’s basketball team played at the Ritchie Coliseum on campus in College Park, and that’s where the game was held. UConn won the game 52-43, but that’s not surprising when you look at how the teams were doing that season. UConn went 14-2 under head coach Don White and won the New England Conference regular season title. Maryland, meanwhile, went 1-21 that season, losing 21 straight games before finally winning its season finale against Washington College. Maryland has never had a worse season since then in terms of wins.
The next matchup between the teams didn’t come until nearly 49 years later on Dec. 4, 1989 at the Hartford Civic Center. It was part of the ACC-Big East challenge that season, and UConn dominated the game, winning 87-65 to move to 5-1 on the season. Chris Smith, who would go on to become UConn’s all-time leading scorer, led the way with 22 points, which was a then-career high.
That season would later be deemed the “Dream Season” by UConn fans, as the Huskies won their first Big East championship and advanced all the way to the Elite Eight. It wasn’t quite as successful for Maryland, who went 19-14 with a NIT appearance. But it was only the first season under the leadership of Gary Williams, who would go on to build a Hall of Fame resume at Maryland over the next 22 years.
The next time the Huskies met the Terrapins was in the 1995 Sweet 16. Both east coast teams were placed in the West Region — UConn as a No. 2 seed and Maryland as a No. 3. So they met in Oakland, California, at the Oracle Arena (then called the Oakland Coliseum). UConn won the game 99-89 behind a phenomenal performance from Donny Marshall, who put up 27 points, nine rebounds and two steals. Ray Allen also had a great game with 18 points and 11 rebounds. UConn would go on to lose to the eventual National Champion UCLA in the Elite Eight two days later.
Maryland and UConn met next during the 2001-02 season on two separate occasions. Maryland won both matchups en route to its only National Championship in program history. The Terrapins were unstoppable that season, finishing 32-4 and never dropping out of the Top 10 all season. UConn was also really good though, finishing 27-7 and getting all the way to the Elite Eight.
The first matchup took place on Dec. 3, 2001 in the BB&T Classic in Washington D.C. Maryland won the game 77-65 behind a 24-point performance from Lonny Baxter. Juan Dixon, who would go on to be a consensus All-American, the ACC Player of the year and the NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player, also added 16 points. UConn was led by its own conference player of the year Caron Butler with 20 points in the loss.
The two teams would meet again in the 2002 Elite Eight at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. Maryland won this one 90-82 behind the same top two performers: Baxter with 29 points and Dixon with 27. After a quiet first half, Butler exploded for 26 points in the second half to bring his game total to 32. He almost single-handedly kept UConn alive in the game, and the Huskies actually had a chance to win. The game was tied at 79 with two minutes left, but the Terrapins hit a couple more shots down the stretch and iced the game at the free-throw line. It would end up being Butler’s final game in a UConn uniform. Despite the loss, it was a memorable one.
Since then, UConn and Maryland have only met twice more. The first was the season opener of the 2013-14 season at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. This one was a real nail biter, as Maryland came back from being down double digits, but UConn held on to win 78-77. Shabazz Napier kicked off what would be his signature season with an 18-point performance to lead the Huskies, but it was Tyler Olander (who has actually won more National Championships than Jim Boeheim) who hit the eventual game-winning 3-pointer with two minutes remaining.
The most recent meeting between the programs came in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 8, 2015. Maryland, who was ranked sixth in the country at the time, won 76-66. The Terrapins led by double digits most of the game, but UConn cut it all the way to three in the final two minutes before Maryland pulled away to win by 10. Melo Trimble led Maryland with 25 points, while Daniel Hamilton led UConn with 23.
There have been some great matchups between UConn in Maryland in their histories. UConn has the upper hand in the all-time record 4-3, but Maryland has won three of the last four. Saturday’s meeting will be their eighth all-time matchup and their third in March Madness. It will add a new layer to this series between two regional, non-conference teams who only seem to meet in prime time games. Based on how the previous matchups have gone, be prepared for a thriller on Saturday night.