By: Brandon Simberg
Despite being down nine at the end of the first half and down 16 in the third quarter, Kaila Charles still believed her team could pull off the comeback.
“We came together after coach talked to us in the locker room and I was like ‘We’re gonna do this,’” Charles said. “I had all the faith in my team that we were gonna comeback. “
The Terps would in fact comeback, even if it took until the last second. They trailed 69-62 with 50 seconds left when Charles putback her own miss to cut the lead to five. On the ensuing inbounds, she drew an offensive foul on Minnesota’s Destiny Pitts. Stephanie Jones then converted an and-one and the deficit was now two.
After a Minnesota turnover, the Terrapins had the ball with a chance to tie it. Charles drove hard to the basket and finished a right hand layup to tie the game at 69.
“They were playing me to my left hand and I’m right handed,” Charles said, discussing the game tying layup. “When I saw the lane open I just drove and I was able to finish.”
Minnesota had the ball on the sidelines and struggled to inbound the ball. Terps forward Shakira Austin tipped the pass and Charles picked it off. She weaved the length of the court and finished with a left-handed layup to decide the game in the final seconds.
“I saw the ball and was like ‘just go get it.’ I knew we had 4-5 seconds so I was just trying to get to the rim and draw a foul, and it went in,” Charles said.
Charles’ last layup gave her a season high 29 points. The junior from Glenn Dale, Maryland, was coming off her worst shooting performance of the season, scoring just two points on 1-of-13 shooting in a loss against Iowa on Sunday.
The most underrated part of Charles’ heroics is that she was being guarded by Kenisha Bell. Bell is not only Minnesota’s best defender, but she is also one of the best in the country. She was one of ten players named to the Naismith Women’s Defensive Player of the Year Award list.
“She’s very locked in on players. She’s very aggressive offensively and defensively,” said Charles, who had high praise for Bell. “She’s got quick hands. She’s a really good defender and a really good player.”
Charles was not the only Maryland player who contributed to the late-game heroics. Freshman guard Taylor Mikesell hit two of her five 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. She attributes a lot of the team’s late effort to Charles.
““Kaila is our leader. The way she goes, the team goes,” Mikesell said. “Just being able to play under her and alongside her leadership is a blessing.”
Maryland coach Brenda Frese has been coaching Charles for three years now, and she was not surprised by the way Charles played on Thursday.
“That’s who Kaila is. All the time she spends in the gym owning her craft. That’s why she’s on so many different national lists,” Frese said. “What separates her is that she wants that responsibility, she wants that ownership every single night.”