No. 3 Maryland women’s basketball notched its first marquee win of the season in its biggest game to date, squeaking past No. 6 Baylor, 79-76.
“I can’t tell you how special it was to have our fans here today,” Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said. “Obviously, they’re our sixth man. It’s been so long since we’ve had just a crowd like that. You see here in Maryland what we’re able to draw.”
Maryland struggled in the first quarter, trailing by four after 10 minutes. Baylor was scorching hot in the period, shooting 9-of-13 from the field, while the Terps were struggling to find buckets early on. Everything seemingly came easier to Baylor from the jump, but that would only be the case in the first quarter.
Maryland dominated the second quarter — outscoring Baylor 25-14 — to take a 42-35 lead into the locker room. The Terps outscored the Bears by two in the third quarter, wrestling a nine-point grip on the game with one quarter to play. Baylor played smart basketball down the stretch and had a shot from three to tie it at the buzzer, but ultimately it was not enough to take down the Terps.
Now, let’s dive into some takeaways before the Terps travel to the Bahamas for parts two and three of their four-game non-conference gauntlet.
The Terps excelled at the free-throw line and with second-chance opportunities.
The charity stripe was all Maryland today, as the Terps earned 18 free throws compared to Baylor only earning five. Not only did Maryland shine in getting to the line, but it made the most of those opportunities, sinking 17-of-18 shots from 15 feet away.
Maryland was a respectable 75.7% foul-shooting team heading into Sunday, but their excellence at the line today came often and in clutch situations. The Terps were 5-of-6 from the line in the fourth quarter, and a made free-throw by sophomore forward/guard Angel Reese to complete the and-one, extending the lead to six with just over one minute to play, was perhaps the most clutch one of the day.
Junior guard Ashley Owusu provides a different element to the Terps that most teams in the country may envy. When she gets full of steam and is able to push the ball downhill, she provides opportunities for herself and her teammates to not only finish but draw fouls around the rim.
“Well, the difference was the foul line discrepancy,” Baylor head coach Nicki Collen said. “And that’s not me getting up here and complaining about the officiating, I’m not one of those. I think some of it is the nature of personnel, and when Owusu is going to rim, like her shoulder is down and she’s gonna create contact, and so I think Maryland does a great job creating contact. They’re bigger and stronger in almost every position, and so they draw fouls.”
In terms of second-chance opportunities, Baylor did not have a single point in that category after three quarters. Off 14 offensive rebounds, the Terps registered 17 second-chance points. Reese was once again excellent on the offensive glass, picking up five offensive boards.
Baylor’s NaLyssa Smith was as advertised, but Angel Reese has arrived.
The nation’s best power forward and an AP First Team All-American from a season ago was simply electric. She left her fingerprints all over this one with 30 points and 15 rebounds.
Maryland was able to contain Smith for when it was denying her the ball, but once she got just a breath of open space, the Terps had little answer.
“NaLyssa is a great player,” graduate student forward/guard Chloe Bibby said. “And I thought we did a good job on her at times and times we let her get some easy buckets. But obviously, she made some heavily contested shots and that’s, I mean, there’s not a lot you can do when you play such a great player like that.”
It was a different game for Smith offensively when sophomore forward/guard Angel Reese was in to neutralize her. Unfortunately for Frese, who already had a shortened roster, she had to manage basketball’s version of chess, star players with foul trouble.
Reese was in foul trouble for pretty much the entirety of the game and picked up her fourth early in the fourth quarter. Reese checked back into the game after the media timeout but was smartly not tasked with guarding Smith, as one more foul would knock her out of the game.
“Excruciating,” Frese said on how hard it was to manage Reese’s minutes with foul trouble. “I wanted to get her in sooner, but then I knew I needed to be smart because it could potentially go down the stretch or an overtime and just where we were at, so it was hard being patient.”
Frese ultimately worked her magic from that sense, and Reese was simply excellent. Her three-point play in the final minutes was the epitome of a great player making a fantastic play in closing time. Reese played only 19 minutes but put up 17 points and nine rebounds. She is a superstar and only proved that further today.
Maryland was shorthanded once again, forcing adjustment on the offensive end.
The Terps were without junior guard/forward Faith Masonius for the third straight game, a substantial missing piece on the defensive end and the boards.
But, another major blow was delivered when graduate student guard Katie Benzan was ruled out with an illness Sunday. Benzan — the country’s leading three-point shooter from a year ago — is a loss that goes beyond the box score.
Time and time again, the Terps draw offensive sets for Benzan to come off screens and drill triples, which are basically layups for her. Spacing was off in the early going for Maryland, with lanes clogged and confusion at times. Oftentimes, Benzan’s shooting sets the tone for the game, and the Terps missed her at the start.
Maryland was cold to start the game, shooting 31.6% and only 1-for-6 from distance in the first quarter. But, the Terps responded with a 50% shooting clinic from distance in the second quarter, extending their lead to seven by halftime.
“It spoke volumes today,” Frese said of her team’s resiliency despite being shorthanded. “...With our crowd and that size, I thought you saw their resiliency and their mental toughness, and a lot of teams would have folded with the adversity right now that we’ve been faced with. But, this locker room is one of the most competitive locker rooms I’ve ever coached.”
In addition to her shooting ability, Benzan has become a major facilitator this year, leading the Terps with 4.8 assists heading into Sunday. She also is averaging two steals per game, a stat she led the Terps in last season. Masonius was also second on the team in rebounds per game prior to last Tuesday’s game against Mount St. Mary’s.
Junior guard Diamond Miller looked very active in 11 minutes of playing time, scoring five points, including a sensational drive to the cup that resulted in a three-point play. Miller, though, exited the game about halfway through the third quarter, going down hard after dashing hard towards the hoop. Miller immediately tended to her knee — which kept her out for the Terps’ first four games — and limped off into the tunnel. Maryland’s star junior returned to the bench but did not return to the game.
If any of the three players are to miss extended time, it would be a tremendous hit to Maryland’s depth and skill on both sides of the ball. A trip to the Bahamas with two top-10 matchups on the docket lurks for Maryland.