No. 9 Maryland women's basketball’s defense was on a roll to start the third quarter against Illinois.
After sophomore guard Ashley Owusu hit senior forward Chloe Bibby with a nice dish inside for an easy layup to start the period, Benzan tied up an Illinois player to force a jump ball on Illinois’ second possession of the half to give Maryland back the ball. It was Illinois’ 17th team turnover in just 23 minutes.
Benzan and Bibby then hit back to back three-pointers to extend the Terps’ lead to 22 points, and they never looked back from there in yet another dominant performance.
Behind its strong defensive effort, Maryland cruised to its 15th win on the season and fourth straight in a 103-58 victory over Illinois, Wednesday afternoon in College Park.
“I thought we kind of took off where we left at Nebraska, I thought our start was tremendous,” Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said after the game. “Just really loved our aggressiveness and our effort.”
Heading into this game, the Terps allowed just 73.3 points per game to opponents and forced their opposition into 15.4 turnovers per game. Illinois was forced into 24 turnovers and couldn't seem to get any kind of rhythm going on offense as it shot just 33.9% from the floor.
The Terps got going very early on due to their tenacious defense. A steal by Collins led to an aggressive Owusu layup to get the first points on the board for the Terps in the opening minute.
“It’s something that we’re learning, to feed off that energy from our defense to our offense,” Bibby said. “And as I said just getting more consistent with it but I think it was really great to see today that we came out ready to play.”
Collins then nailed a corner three with 7:52 left in the quarter, and then Owusu collected yet another steal off a tipped pass which she took to the basket to draw a foul. Maryland jumped right out of the gates with a 7-0 run, which was able to develop off off six straight turnovers from the Illini.
Collins then nabbed another takeaway on the ensuing Illinois possession and Benzan eventually drained a three-point shot to give the Terps a 10-0 lead just two and a half minutes in. Illinois began the game with seven straight turnovers on seven possessions and the Terps scored 10 points before Illinois got off its first shot attempt, which came at the 6:34 mark of the first quarter.
Maryland went to dominate defensively for the rest of the quarter, finishing the first frame up 29-11 and forcing Illinois into 11 team turnovers. The Terps scored 16 points off of turnovers in the first frame.
The second quarter started similarly to the first, with an Illinois turnover on the first possession allowing Bibby to bank in a layup. On the ensuing possession, Maryland forced Illinois into yet another turnover just one minute into the quarter.
“When we get our defense in lockdown, it’s just so much fun to play with and I think everyone feeds off that energy,” Bibby said. “If we’re locked in, I don’t think anyone can really beat us.”
Maryland then forced Illinois’ 14th turnover with 8:15 left, which led to another easy layup for Owusu to push the lead to 24. The Terps jumped out to a 14-6 run to start the second frame.
Maryland averaged 8.2 steals per contest coming into Wednesday’s game, in which the team amassed 14 steals behind its hounding defense.
At halftime, the Terps were already up 54-33 and had forced 15 turnovers from Illinois, which resulting in 24 points of their own. Five different Terps had a steal in the first two quarters, with Collins leading the way with three.
But even with the large lead heading into the break, the Terps never seemed to let up on the defensive end in the second half. Maryland was able to maintain its defensive intensity in the third quarter and didn’t skip a beat from the first half, consistently swarming the Illini with strong on-ball defense in the paint and on the perimeter.
Benzan and Bibby sunk back-to-back three-pointers for the Terps to open up the quarter. Both players led the scoring charge for Maryland, scoring 22 and 20, respectively. Benzan tied her own individual conference-high point total with her performance.
Quick hands from Collins helped her collect her fourth steal with 6:40 remaining in the third, and then she swiftly dumped it off to Owusu, who went to the free-throw line for two freebies to push the lead even further. Owusu, who leads the Terps in points per game, had 17 on the afternoon.
The Terps ended the third frame with a healthy 77-50 lead and three different Maryland players had multiple steals.
The final frame of the contest saw the Terps reach the century mark for the fourth time this season. Maryland started out the fourth quarter on a 8-3 run, highlighted by a smooth Taisiya Kozlova driving layup to the basket, pushing the score to 85-53 with 7:02 remaining.
With under three minutes to go, the Terps had outscored the Illini 19-7 in the quarter. To put the icing on the cake, Zoe Young sunk a three-point down the bottom of the basket to extend the Maryland lead to 41, which made the Terps’ bench erupt with excitement.
Maryland was able to wind down the clock from there, and close out the Illini for its 15th win in 17 games. Maryland improves to a 15-2 record on the season and a 11-1 Big Ten Conference record as well. The win marks also Maryland’s 12th win over the Fighting Illini, with the Terps securing in a win every time the two squads have met.
Three Things To Know
- Maryland’s first half defense helped it go on cruise control the rest of the way. The Terps took a 21-point lead into halftime primarily because of its aggressive and effective defensive effort. Illinois had 15 team turnovers at halftime and five different Maryland players had a steal heading into the break. The Fighting Illini started the game with seven turnovers on seven consecutive possessions, which set the tone for the rest of the half. Maryland never looked back after its strong defensive start, and it cruised to its 11th victory over Big Ten opponents.
“We’re just playing a lot harder,” Frese said of Maryland’s defensive effort. “I just think that the ownership is there, I mean I get that we can score the basketball, you see that. So, just understanding that we’ve got to be able to tighten things up on the defensive end, it’s coming.”
2. Katie Benzan bounced back in a big way for the Terps. Last time out against Nebraska, Benzan shot just 1-for-6 from the field and she wasn’t able to connect on any of her three three-pointer attempts. However, she was able to flip the script completely against Illinois. The senior scored 19 in the first half alone, potting in five shots from deep in her first 19 minutes on the floor.
“We want to give the first punch right away and I just really embodied that mentality I guess today,” Benzan said. “Today [it] was falling, I mean at Nebraska it wasn’t, but somedays it will fall some days it’s not. But, as a team we just punched first and we dominated.”
She went on to finish with 22 points on 7-for-13 shooting. The Terps will need Benzan to have solid games on a consistent basis if they hope to make a deep postseason run.
“I wouldn’t really even call it a bounce back game for her, I think she spoils us,” Frese said of Benzan. “But, I love the fact that she won’t force shots, just within the flow of the game so she just continues to play the right way.”
3. Maryland and Illinois made for a physical battle. Despite being a battle of the top and bottom teams in the Big Ten, the Terps and Illini battled tough throughout. With 37 combined turnovers and 27 combined fouls, bodies routinely hit the floor and chatter in the first half between both teams led to a technical foul on Illinois’ Eva Rubin. The Terps did well to capitalize on their turnovers and also posted a 16-for-18 effort from the free-throw line.