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No. 8 Maryland women’s basketball vs. Rutgers preview

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The Terps open up Big Ten play on the road.

Courtesy of Maryland Athletics
UMTerps

No. 8 Maryland women’s basketball begins its quest to repeat as Big Ten regular season champions for the fourth consecutive year this Sunday at Rutgers.

The Terps escaped the Big Ten/ACC Challenge against Miami with an 82-74 win against the Hurricanes on Thursday night. Sophomore forward/guard Angel Reese continued her rise to superstardom, dropping a career-high in points (26) and rebounds (15). Miami had absolutely no answer for Reese down low, as she grabbed eight offensive boards and shot 10-of-14 from the field. Junior guard Ashley Owusu also starred with 22 points, including a cool 12-of-14 foul shooting mark.

Maryland welcomed back graduate student guard Katie Benzan and junior guard/forward Faith Masonius to its lineup with open arms, and both were much needed Thursday. Benzan — who missed three games due to illness — struggled offensively for most of the night, but sent home a major three to earn Maryland some separation in the final two minutes of the game. Masonius — who missed five games due to illness — played well off the bench with eight points, six rebounds and three steals. Her defensive presence is a much-needed boost for the Terps.

“I mean, you could see the energy. I mean, gosh, [Masonius] hasn’t, she’s only played three games for us,” head coach Brenda Frese said postgame Thursday. “...To play 31 minutes tonight, her heart and her hustle, I thought on the top of the press, made a lot of plays, being really aggressive and those steals were huge. I felt like they were timely steals when we needed to be able to have.”

In its all-time history against Rutgers, Maryland holds a 28-12 series advantage. The most recent matchup between the teams on Jan. 28 was canceled, but the Terps have won three straight and 10 of its last 11 games against the Scarlet Knights.

Sunday’s game is slated for a 2 p.m. tip and will air nationally on Big Ten Network.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights (4-5)

2020-21 record: 14-5 (10-3 Big Ten)

Legendary head coach C. Vivian Stringer has been at Rutgers since the 1995-96 season and ranks fourth all-time in NCAA Division I victories but is missing the 2021-22 season due to COVID-19 concerns. Leading the Scarlet Knights in place of Stringer is acting head coach Timothy Eatman. Eatman has been with the Rutgers women’s basketball program since 2015, taking on roles as associate head coach, assistant coach and recruiting coordinator in addition to his current position.

The Scarlet Knights have started the season on the wrong foot, already matching their loss total from last season. After rattling off three straight wins to start the season, Rutgers only scored 44 fell at home to Stony Brook by nine points on Nov. 16. It has also lost four games in a row, including an 0-3 stint at the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands and most recently a 58-50 loss at Pittsburgh in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Scarlet Knights only return one starter from last year’s NCAA Tournament squad and do not have a single player averaging more than 8.1 points per game this season.

Players to know

Osh Brown, graduate student forward, 6-foot-1, No. 32 — Brown comes to Rutgers from Ball State, where she ranked fourth in the nation with 12.9 rebounds per game in 2020-21 and earned First Team All-MAC honors in each of the last two seasons. According to the Rutgers Athletics website, Brown is the NCAA Division I active leader in total rebounds and double-doubles. In her fifth season of eligibility, Brown leads Rutgers with 8.1 points and 10 rebounds per game. She is shooting 51.8% from the field but is turning the ball over at a rapid rate of 3.44 turnovers per contest.

Shug Dickson, graduate student guard, 5-foot-10, No. 3 — Dickson is a sixth-year transfer for Rutgers, joining her fourth program (Tulsa, Texas Tech, Missouri). The St. Louis native averaged 10 points, 2.9 rebounds and four assists per game for the Tigers last season. Dickson made her season debut against DePaul on Thanksgiving, and her minutes have ramped up all the way to 35 minutes in her last game against Pitt. She is Rutgers’ second-highest scorer on average with 7.3 points per game.

Lasha Petree, senior guard, 6-foot, No. 0 — Before arriving at Rutgers, Petree had a successful three-year career at Bradley, earning First Team All-MVC honors in 2020-21 and 2019-20. Petree proved herself as a rim protector, reserving spots on the MVC All-Defensive Team in both of her last two seasons, as well. In nine games this season, six of which she started, Petree is averaging 6.3 points and 1.2 blocks per game.

Strength

Protecting the rim. The Scarlet Knights have averaged five blocks per game thus far, a mark that ranks tied for 34th in the nation as of Friday afternoon, per ESPN. Along with Petree, Singleton is an established shot-blocker, averaging 1.4 blocks per game. If the Scarlet Knights could affect the shots of Reese in the post, that could be key to keeping it closer than expected.

Weakness

Program turnover. In addition to only bringing back one starter in redshirt junior forward Tyia Singleton, Rutgers brings in seven transfers and one freshman for a total of eight newcomers. It has led to a team that has only averaged 54.6 points per game and holds an average -2.0 scoring margin this season. It will take time to jell, but that may not happen against a Maryland team that has brought back basically everybody from last season.

Three things to watch

1. Can Mimi Collins break out of her mini offensive slump? The redshirt junior forward is an incredible low-post presence for the Terps but has hit a bit of a wall recently. Collins is posting 11.8 points per game but has only scored four, nine and two points respectively in each of Maryland’s last three games. That scoring comes on a combined 6-of-23 shooting and she has only gotten to the charity stripe for two attempts in that time period. Collins had a monster game against Rutgers on Dec. 14, 2020, recording 22 points and 7 rebounds.

2. Maryland needs to do a better job taking care of the ball. Against Miami, the Terps turned the ball over 16 times. Maryland had the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the nation last year but produced three fewer assists than turnovers against the Hurricanes. Owusu — Maryland’s “floor general,” as Frese calls her — did not have a single turnover on Thursday. As long as Maryland takes care of the ball and plays the other facets of the game to its normal standard, it should have no issue taking care of Rutgers.

3. Can Katie Benzan get in a rhythm offensively? The nation’s best outside threat did not light up Thursday’s box score, but she did hit the most meaningful shot of the game. As she gets her legs back underneath her, that three-pointer could provide a significant foundation for her to return to her potential to explode at any given time. Benzan shot 4-of-8 from distance at Rutgers last season.