In a battle between an annual soccer power and a Kentucky team trying to make its own mark, tradition prevailed Friday as the Maryland Terrapins made a first-half goal stand for a 1-0 win in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals in front of a 3,228 fans at The Bell.
“I thought we played an OK game, but when you get to this level, when you get to an Elite Eight, the teams that you play are going to be pretty special,” UK Coach Johan Cedergren said. “We gave them one chance in the first half, and a good team is going to take care of their chances.”
Kentucky battled in its attempt at a tying goal, dominating possession for much of the second half. But it saw its best opportunities, including three shots by center back Aime Mabika, go astray. Mabika grazed the left post early in the second half off service from a midfield free kick, but that would be as close as UK got to equalizing.
“We were over them in the second half, but it’s just one of those things … we just weren’t able to produce today,” Cedergren said. “Incredibly disappointed, but at the same time very proud of the season we’ve had.”
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With Kentucky looking more dangerous in possession for much of the first half, Maryland stunned the Cats with their first shot on target in the 28th minute. Maryland’s Amar Sejdic played the ball in front of a wide open Sebastian Elney as he sprinted into the right side of the box. Elney’s right-footed shot moved too quickly under a sprawling Enrique Facusse and put the Terps up 1-0.
It was Elney’s fourth goal of the year and only the the fourth goal UK has given up at The Bell this season. And it was the first time this year UK has fallen behind at home.
“In the second half we had multiple (chances),” UK senior Tanner Hummel said. “Some days it’s just not your day to score.”
The Cats, one of the most potent offenses in nation, were limited to nine shots and only put three on target. UK also limited the Terps to nine shots with just two on target, but one of those found the back of the net. Maryland’s back line, led by 6-5 All-Big 10 junior Donovan Pines, frustrated Kentucky’s attack.
Maryland (11-6-4) started the season 4-5-1, but was 6-1-1 in its last eight games, which included a tie against No. 2 Indiana and wins over No. 17 Michigan State and No. 10 Duke. Indiana and Michigan State each remained alive Friday in the tournament.
Maryland has been to the tournament 18 straight seasons, with two of its three national titles coming during that stretch (1968, 2005 and 2008). Maryland earned its ninth trip to the College Cup, soccer’s version of the Final Four.
Kentucky (19-2-1) finished its best season in program history with its deepest run ever into the NCAA Tournament that saw the Cats earn a No. 3 seed and the right to host all the way to the College Cup. Friday marked the second time this year UK has had more than 3,000 fans at a men’s soccer match.
And the Cats did it starting nine underclassmen off a year when the Cats missed the postseason for only the second time in Cedergren’s seven seasons.
“It’s been an incredible journey and these guys have given 100 percent every step of the way,” Cedergren said. “They’ve never been perfect, but they’ve always played as hard as they can.”