When the Maryland Terrapins women's basketball team looked at their schedule for their first Big Ten season, it's unlikely they could have projected that their 15th game, a road trip to Madison to face the Wisconsin Badgers, would provide them the opportunity to capture a share of the Big Ten title and secure the top seed in the B1G tournament. But that is precisely how the table was set in the Kohl Center and the Terps led wire to wire in their 81-70 win that they would own both those prizes.
First Half - Getting it done early
Lexie Brown got the Terps' train chugging with a jumper just 20 seconds into the game. Maryland hit the glass early, picking up three offensive rebounds in the game's opening minutes as they ran to an early 7-0 lead. The Terps extended the lead to eight at 12-4 by the first media timeout and when Brown found Brionna Jones open on the low block for a layup on the first possession out of the timeout, they had the lead in double digits.
As they extended the lead to as much as 17, the Terps were getting balanced scoring and production from the starters and the bench. Principal among the starters, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough led the Terrapins with 12 first half points. Brown added eight and Jones nine. Tierney Pfirman was again strong off the bench with six first half points on 3-of-4 shooting. Jones also pulled down a team-high six rebounds.
Although the Terps held a comfortable 43-30 lead at the half, Maryland coach Brenda Frese had issues to discuss with her team. Her three main points were likely defense, rebounding and focus. On the defensive side of the ball, while she was probably pleased with the 11 Wisconsin turnovers that led to 20 Maryland points, Frese couldn't have been happy with the 50.4 percent Badgers shooting percentage.
On the boards, while Jones led all players with six, as a team, Wisconsin had a 16-15 edge over Maryland. And with regard to focus, the Terps seemed to lose a bit of focus and energy when they saw the margin peak at 17. Some casual box outs, sloppy ball handling and lax defense by Maryland late in the first half were the main contributing factors that allowed the Badgers to creep back within 13.
Second half - On cruise control but under the speed limit
Unlike some of the Terrapins' more recent opponents, Wisconsin should have lacked both the firepower and the ability to put together an extended series of defensive stops to threaten a comeback once Maryland opened a double-digit lead. However, Maryland did not start the half with the intensity that their coach wanted. Though they forced a turnover on Wisconsin's first possessing and opened the lead to 15 on a pair of free throws by Jones, the Terps allowed the Badgers some wide open looks from beyond the arc and, as the teams went into the first media timeout, Wisconsin had cut the lead to five.
A pair of free throws by Dakota Whyte after a missed jumper by Kiara Leslie brought the Badgers to within 49-46. It fell to Walker-Kimbrough to open the lead back up for the Terps scoring on a three point jumper and a drive into the lane to extend the lead back to eight.
But the conference's leading three-point shooter, Nicole Bauman, had a response for Wisconsin and her long jumper made the score 54-49. The Terps sifted to a zone defense for several possessions and disrupted the Badgers' offensive rhythm as they moved the lead back to nine at 58-49, courtesy of getting the ball inside to Jones and a short jumper by Kristin Confroy after a Badgers turnover.
Jones began to dominate inside both scoring and rebounding. By the time the teams went to their benches for the under 12 minute timeout, the sophomore had already registered her 10th double-double of the season with 16 points and a dozen rebounds.
The Terps ran off another seven straight to extend the lead to 65-49 before Bauman hit another three to stop Maryland's run. As Jones went to the bench, Maryland initially extended the lead to 19, but Wisconsin exploited the Terps' lack of rebounding and strong inside presence and ran off six straight to close within 71-58, forcing a timeout from Frese.
The teams traded a pair of baskets and Maryland began to look to utilize the clock. They held a 13-point lead, 73-60, at the final media timeout, but the Badgers were headed to the free throw line for two shots coming out of the break.
Two free throws and a Maryland turnover on the inbounds play extended Wisconsin's late run to 12-2 and the Terps were again looking at a single-digit margin. Jones rebounded a missed Confroy three pointer that led to an opportunity for Brown at the free throw line. The sophomore made one of two and Maryland led 74-64, but Jones went to the bench looking as though she turned an ankle.
The game was well in hand, but Maryland continued to show poor decision making and lax play committing silly fouls, giving up offensive rebounds and turning over the ball. The Terps wrapped up the game from the free throw line where they finished 20-of-26.
Jones led Maryland with 20 points and 15 rebounds. She was joined in double figures by Walker-Kimbrough's 17 and 15 from Brown who also handed out seven assists.
The Terps have two of their last three regular season games at home starting Monday night when they host the Penn State Lady Lions. Maryland's next win will secure the outright conference championship.