The question hanging in the air at the start of Sunday was "Could the Maryland women's basketball team become the first Terrapins squad to complete an undefeated conference season?" The answer hanging in the air at the end of the day was yes as the Terps used stifling defense to throttle Northwestern on their way to a 68-48 win over the Wildcats.
First half - The job's half done
A Northwestern air ball and a Maryland turnover opened the game, but the early nerves were quickly quelled as the squads traded three point jumpers - the first by Northwestern's Maggie Lyons and the second by the Terrapins' Laurin Mincy. Lexie Brown added a long three pointer as the Terps built a 10-5 lead headed into the first media timeout.
A baseline jumper by Malina Howard stopped a 4-0 Wildcats' run and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough added a free throw line jumper for her second basket of the game. When Brown's short baseline jumper extended Maryland's response to six straight points and a 16-9 lead, Northwestern coach Joe McKeown called his first timeout.
After picking up seven early rebounds, Brionna Jones got on the board off a perfect feed from Mincy. Walker-Kimbrough made one of two from the free throw line but the Wildcats made three straight buckets to knot the score at 19 as they took advantage of five early Maryland turnovers and Brenda Frese used her first timeout.
The Terps responded by getting the ball inside to Jones for a layup. Brown picked up her second foul with 7:39 to play in the half and Frese inserted Chloe Pavlech into the game. Mincy and Pavlech made back-to-back three point shots and the Terrapins led 27-21. However, for the second time in the half the Terps lost Maggie Lyons, Northwestern's best three point shooter, and she made them pay, cutting Maryland's lead to three.
After a near turnover by Pavlech, Frese inserted Brene Moseley who immediately saw Lyons steal her first pass and convert a layup for the Wildcats' 12th point off Maryland turnovers. Moseley later responded with a three pointer from top of the arc and Kristen Confroy scored on an acrobatic layup after driving to the hoop to give Maryland a 32-26 lead they took to the break.
Northwestern's two leading scorers and the players featured in my preview, Nia Coffey and Maggie Lyons, combined to score 18 of the Wildcats' 26 first half points with Lyons leading all scorers with 10. Brown led the Terps with sevendespite missing the final seven and a half minutes of play. However, Maryland was exceptionally balanced in their attack. Mincy added six points and Walker-Kimbrough five, while nine players scored for the Terrapins.
The Terps also had a significant 22-14 edge in rebounding and held Northwestern to just 11-of-31 (35.5 percent) from the floor. Also noteworthy was the freedom of play allowed by the officiating crew. The Terps were whistled for five fouls and the referees called only two infractions on the Wildcats.
Second half - Finishing the job
The Terps opened the half with possession and Jones finally scored after three offensive rebounds. Northwestern answered with a three pointer by senior center Alex Cohen but Howard scored on a layup. Brown picked up her third foul trying to fend off Coffey on the inside and went back to the bench with 16 and half minutes to play. A layup by Jones on a feed from Walker-Kimbrough gave Maryland a 38-30 lead with Northwestern going to the free throw line at the first media timeout.
For the second time in the half, Coffey made one of two from the line and when Moseley made her second three pointer of the game, Maryland had a double digit lead for the first time in the game. After a pair of free throws by Coffey, the Terps scored on three straight possessions - a drive to the basket for a layup by Moseley, another inside hoop by Jones off a feed from Walker-Kimbrough and a short jumper by Moseley. Trailing 47-33 and sensing the game on the verge of slipping away, McKeown called another timeout.
With under 11 minutes to play, Jones went to the free throw line for Maryland's first attempts of the half. The sophomore made one of two and, after a Wildcats basket and a Maryland defensive stop, Walker-Kimbrough made a three and scored on a drive and Maryland led 53-37.
Brown returned to the game after a Northwestern timeout with 8:39 to play and immediately fed Jones for a traditional three point play and then found Moseley open on the wing for a three point jumper. Maryland led by 20 at 59-39.
The Terps began to milk the clock and a layup by Coffey followed by a steal and layup by Ashley Deary cut Maryland's lead to 17 as the clock ticked under five minutes. The Terps struggled from the free throw line as both Moseley and Jones missed the front end of one and one opportunities but Maryland snagged the rebound on both occasions and Moseley finally made the Wildcats pay with a short wing jumper. At the final media timeout, the Terrapins' lead was 62-43.
The Wildcats have been the "Cardiac Cats" for much of the year coming rallying for wins four times after trailing by double digits. Maryland saw to it that their would be no such rally on Sunday holding Northwestern to just 29 percent from the field and out rebounding them by 14 as the terps methodically closed out the 69-48 win becoming just the third team in Big Ten history and the first Maryland basketball team - men or women - to finish undefeated in conference play.
Moseley led all scorers with 18 points equaling her season high. Jones added 14 points and 13 rebounds registering yet another double double. Walker-Kimbrough added 11 points and finished just shy of a triple double when adding eight rebounds and nine assists
Winners of 21 straight games, Maryland will have a few days to rest and recharge before heading back to Chicagoland for their first Big Ten Tournament. As the top seed, the Terps have a double bye and will open play on Friday.