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Three takeaways from No. 8 Maryland women’s basketball’s loss to No. 1 South Carolina

The Terps showed Sunday afternoon why they belong in the top-10 conversation.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

In the 2021 Jimmy V Classic, the 18,000 fans inside Colonial Life Arena were treated to a top-10 masterclass between two top post players in college basketball.

Preseason All-American Aliyah Boston — averaging 16 points, nine rebounds — versus sophomore standout Angel Reese — putting up 18.5 points, 10.2 rebounds — was worth the price of admission. Still, the afternoon treated fans to much more than two bigs going at it.

The defensive game plans drawn up by No. 8 Maryland women’s basketball head coach Brenda Frese and No. 1 South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley, two of the sport’s most respected coaches, led to a low-scoring yet dramatic affair. Both teams got in the lanes, offered help defense, and made big shots.

South Carolina came away with the 66-59 win on Sunday.

“This is why I built this schedule, which was to prepare us for March,” Frese said. “To be in these battles and this kind of intensity and this kind of energy. Our team has really grown up. A terrific response.”

Maryland's fight against South Carolina juxtaposed with two blowout losses suffered in the Bahamas and it becomes clear how competitive the Terps can be when they are close to full strength. Guard Diamond Miller is still day-to-day with a knee injury.

“You see getting Faith [Masonius] and Katie [Benzan] back since the Bahamas — the energy for us,” Frese said. “Angel just showed why she’s one of the best big guards in the country. She was a really hard matchup. She really drew a lot of fouls, made a lot of great plays for us.”

Here are several takeaways from the matchup with the Gamecocks.

Maryland’s inability to rebound put it at a disadvantage.

A glance at Maryland’s roster reveals nine players listed at six feet or taller. Yet against No. 1 South Carolina, the Terps were minus-27 in the rebounding department.

What’s more is that of the Gamecocks’ 61 rebounds, 24 came on the offensive glass. Staley’s team used those offensive rebounds to put up 24 second-chance points Sunday afternoon. Leading the charge were Victaria Saxton, who finished the outing with seven offensive boards, and Boston — 16 rebounds, six offensive.

“[Victaria] allows the stars to be stars,” Staley said after the game. “When a player like that does her job like that, gets three offensive rebounds at the end of the basketball game, she then becomes a star.”

Frese, without too much surprise, believed that the Terps’ rebounding struggles were the difference-maker.

“[The] moral of the story was rebounding,” Frese said. “The size, you saw that late game, you can’t go minus-27 on the glass like we did and give up 24 O-boards, but areas that I know we can correct and improve on.”

The Terps didn’t shoot well enough to beat the best team in the nation.

To topple the No. 1 team in the country, you have to be perfect, and Maryland made too many mistakes to be able to hand South Carolina its first defeat of the season. From the field, the Terps made an abysmal 36% of their shots and 56% from the line.

Heading into Sunday afternoon, Maryland had made the most free throws in the nation, knocking down 186 total. The Terps also connected on 77% of their attempts from the charity stripe.

Junior guard Ashley Owusu, the team’s creative leader and floor general, had one of her worst shooting performances of the season. On 17 attempts from the field, Owusu hit three shots and missed three of her eight free throws. Sunday’s game is more of an anomaly than a trend, so Owusu should be back and ready to go on Dec. 21 against Coppin State.

“I thought Ashley got tired,” Frese said. “You saw some fatigue, but that’s the respect that you get when you get the best defender. I thought...[Brea Beal] did a terrific job defensively.”

“I mean Brea, this is what she does,” Staley said of her defensive star. “She’s a specialty. If you watch us play, you might fall in love with our ability to defend. There’s a catalyst within all that, and she’s that.”

Despite the loss, Maryland had a few positives to take away from the game.

Regardless of the score, a loss is always disappointing, but Maryland hung with the consensus top team in the country for 40 minutes. Could it have been better on the glass? Of course it could have. Did it have an uncharacteristically poor shooting day? The top scoring offense from a season ago sure did. But to end these takeaways, let’s focus on the positives.

Stifling the top-ranked team in the country with a well-organized and compact 2-3 zone, Maryland held South Carolina to a season-low 13 first-quarter points. The goal was to keep the ball out of Boston’s hands, and the plan worked. Through the first 10 minutes, the junior forward had just four points. Collectively, the Terps’ defense also held the Gamecocks to 6-for-18 shooting from the field and 0-for-4 from three.

“The key points today were to pack in the zone,” Masonius said. “We really focused on packing it in and getting out to those shooters. I think it definitely gave South Carolina some difficulty inside.”

South Carolina finished the game going 36% from the field, 18% from three and 56% from the line, a testament to Maryland’s defensive game plan and execution.

“A great game between two really, really good teams,” Frese said. “Really proud of our team’s fight to come into this building and compete the way we did for 40 minutes... disappointed to not get the win, but proud of our fight.”

With a 9-3 record now, Maryland will have some time to recover before facing off against Coppin State on Dec. 21. After that nonconference game, the Terps will resume with a rigorous Big Ten schedule. Losing by just seven on the road to the best team in the nation is something to build off of and Maryland should be encouraged by how close the contest really was.

“It’s trending in the right way, obviously to get Faith and Katie back,” Frese said. “We’re being patient with being able to bring Diamond back. As long as we continue to grow and stay hungry, to see us where we were two weeks ago to where we are today. Now, we got to continue that hunger to keep getting better.”