The Maryland Terrapins women's basketball team maintained their share of Terps' dominance atop the Big Ten Sunday afternoon winning their ninth straight and moving to a perfect 6-0 in conference play with a 74-54 win over the visiting Illinois Fighting Illini.
First Half - Slow out of the gate
The Terps started the game with less intensity than coach Brenda Frese might have wanted to see from her squad. While Maryland missed their first six shots in a stretch that included three blocked shots, the Illini made their first two and opened an early 5-0 lead. With a player trapped at mid-court, Illinois coach Matt Bollant called a timeout to avoid the turnover.
He avoided the turnover, but also gave Frese the chance to remind her squad that they needed to raise their intensity. Four Maryland steals and a blocked shot later, the Terps had gone on a 12-0 run and led by seven at the first media timeout. "I don't know if we were a little sluggish after the the road trip, but I thought Illinois came out aggressively. What I do like about this team is that when we take a punch, then we're going to punch back," Frese said afterward.
Defensively, Illinois plays a very active two-three matchup zone that created some problems for the Terrapins. Coach Frese clearly wanted to exploit the Terps' inside advantage. This contributed to Illinois amassing seven early blocked shots and to seven Maryland turnovers in the first 15 minutes. It also created nine Illini fouls, 11 points from Brionna Jones and an 18-9 Terrapins rebounding edge over the same time span.
At 26 percent, Illinois entered the game as the best team in the Big Ten at defending the three-point shot and Maryland's struggles from behind the arc did nothing to belie that reputation. The Terps made only one of their nine three-point attempts for the half. The poor shooting performance combined with an uncharacteristic 5-8 from the free throw line helped the Illini stay within striking distance and trail only 36-26 at the break.
Second half - Another crucial timeout
Both squads were a bit sloppy to open the half, but particularly Maryland as the Terps committed five turnovers in the opening three and a half minutes. Fortunately for Maryland fans, Illinois also struggled and could only cut off four points from the Terps' lead as the teams went to the bench for the first media timeout of the half.
More than six minutes into the half, Maryland was 1-7 from the field and four of six from the free throw line. A run-out basket after another missed three pointer saw the visitors cut the lead to three and prompted a timeout by Frese. After Illinois missed a layup, the Terps responded with a 7-0 run that featured quick ball movement around the Illinois zone that led to a Jones layup, a mid-range jumper by Kristen Confroy and a three-point jumper by Brene Moseley. In just more than a minute of game time, the lead was back to 10. Frese said that she was "always encouraging" in the timeout. "I wanted to get them fired up defensively. I thought at times we were watching a little bit more and not moving on the passes. Once our defense picked up, I thought that was the difference."
For much of the half, Frese opted to use a smaller lineup with guards Confroy, Moseley, and Brown to counter the Illini zone. The lineup proved effective as Maryland continued to build on the momentum they established out of the seven-point run. With the lead at 15, the Terps returned to a more traditional lineup and continued to stretch the lead.
When Jones went to the bench with 4:25 to play, Maryland led 68-46. The sophomore had a career high 24 points to go along with 14 rebounds registering her third double double in the last four games. Said Illinois coach Matt Bollant, "Going into the game I thought that Brionna Jones was as good a post-up player as we've played against all year. She demands the ball and makes it look easy inside and 24 (points), 14 (rebounds) and 6 (blocks) shows what kind of player she is."
Without a Terps starter on the floor, the Illini made baskets on three straight possessions including two three pointers but the Terps closed out the 20-point win in front of 6,191 on a rainy Sunday.
Maryland is now 15-2 and 6-0 in the Big Ten. The Terps return to the court Thursday night when they host Michigan State at 7:00 p.m.