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No. 6 Maryland women’s basketball vs. No. 8 Indiana preview

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The top-10 road tilt is Maryland’s third Big Ten game this season.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics
UMTerps

No. 6 Maryland women’s basketball will start the new year in Bloomington, Indiana as it takes on the No. 8 Indiana Hoosiers on Sunday at 3 p.m.

The Terps’ most recent game — which was supposed to be at Illinois on Dec. 30 — was postponed due to positive COVID-19 results within the Fighting Illini program. That means that Sunday will be Maryland’s first time in action in 12 days and only its third game in three weeks.

“Great to be able to get back after a much-needed break for the holidays,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “...Our girls have really come back rejuvenated, well-rested, some of our best practices and now you fall right into playing a really talented team. I mean, obviously, it was unfortunate with us not being able to play Illinois, but we’re excited about this matchup.”

The last time Maryland took the floor was on Dec. 21 at Coppin State. The Terps ran the Eagles out of their own gym, returning to College Park with a 98-52 victory. Graduate student guard Katie Benzan shined in just over 23 minutes of action, dropping 22 points on an incredibly efficient 6-of-9 clip from three-point range. Benzan, who also added six assists, did enough against Coppin State to be named to the Big Ten Player of the Week Honor Roll. Benzan’s three-point percentage is up to 47.8%, a mark that ranks second in the Big Ten this season.

Perhaps the most important development from the Coppin State game was the return of junior guard Diamond Miller. Miller had been listed as day-to-day with a knee injury for the majority of the season before returning against the Eagles with 10 points in 21 minutes.

“The sign of a great player elevates everyone else’s play, and that’s what’s happened with Diamond’s return,” Frese said.

Sunday’s game is set to air nationally on ESPN2. Let’s take a look at the Hoosiers, the team that was projected to finish second behind the Terps in the Big Ten coaches’ preseason rankings.

No. 8 Indiana Hoosiers (10-2, 2-0 Big Ten)

2020-21 record: 21-6 (16-2 Big Ten)

Head coach Teri Moren is in her eighth season leading the Hoosiers’ women’s basketball program. Moren has been extremely successful, taking Indiana to its first Elite Eight in program history last season. Though she went 15-16 in her first season in 2014-15, Moren has led Indiana to at least 21 wins in every season since. Prior to arriving in Bloomington, Moren spent four seasons as head coach of Indiana State. She also has assistant coaching experience at Butler, Northwestern and Georgia Tech in addition to a seven-season head coaching stint at Division II Indianapolis.

Similar to Maryland, Indiana has played a rigorous schedule. At the time of the games being played, the Hoosiers have faced four teams in the top-20. They own a blowout win over then-No. 13 Kentucky and two single-digit losses to Stanford and NC State. Indiana’s two conference wins come by 30 over Penn State and by 20 over then-No. 20 Ohio State. The Hoosiers also had a Dec. 30 game postponed. Rutgers had positive COVID-19 results within its program, leading to that game getting called off.

Players to know

Grace Berger, senior guard, 6-foot, No. 34 — Named to the All-Big Ten First Team a season ago, Berger is having a strong senior campaign. Hailing from Louisville, Kentucky, Berger is Indiana’s second-leading scorer at 14.8 points per game. She leads the Hoosiers with 4.4 assists per game and is posting 5.9 boards per night. Berger lit up Maryland in the Hoosiers’ loss to Maryland last year on Jan. 4, scoring 26 points on 13-of-21 shooting.

Mackenzie Holmes, junior forward, 6-foot-3, No. 54 — Like Berger, Holmes was named to the All-Big Ten First Team last season. Holmes is a capable rim protector; she led the Big Ten with three blocks per game in 2020-21 and is averaging two blocks per game this season. Holmes is also Indiana’s leading scorer — and the Big Ten’s sixth — at 18.3 points per game. She will be yet another viable test for sophomore forward/guard Angel Reese down low.

Ali Patberg, graduate student guard, 5-foot-11, No. 14 — Patberg has been in college since the 2015-16 season, starting her career at Notre Dame. She missed her freshman season due to a torn ACL and had to sit out the 2017-18 season after transferring to Indiana. Now in her seventh collegiate season, Patberg is the Hoosiers’ third-leading scorer at 11.8 points per game.

Strength

Overall scoring defense. The Hoosiers have solidified themselves as a great defensive team this season. The conference’s second-best scoring defense in 2020-21 holds the same spot among its Big Ten foes in 2021-22. Indiana has allowed 56.3 points per game, and only Rutgers has allowed fewer at 54.9 points per game. Something has to give Sunday, as Maryland owns the conference’s second-best offense at 82.8 points per game.

Weakness

Guarding the perimeter. Indiana is a pretty well-rounded team with limited holes, but the three-point arc could be an area that Maryland takes advantage of. The Hoosiers have allowed their opponents to shoot 30.9% from distance, the ninth-best perimeter defense in the Big Ten. This may not be a total game-changer but could be something that Benzan and the Terps’ perimeter threats expose.

Three things to watch

1. How will the Terps look after not playing much the past three weeks? Maryland has had a few massive breaks in its schedule, first taking nine days off for finals in-between the South Carolina matchup on Dec. 12 and the Coppin State game nine days later. Currently on the back end of a 12-day break, the Terps should be extremely well-rested for Indiana. Oftentimes a factor of rust is seen coming out of the gates for teams coming off long layoffs, but Maryland could be feeling fresher and more healthy than ever, as well.

“They came back in great shape,” Frese said. “You can tell, they’ve been in the gym, we’re really starting to kind of get some really good continuity on both ends of the floor, defensively, as well as offensively. So just having these extra practices between finals as well as now, coming back off the break has been huge for us, to be honest, to have this many days together.”

2. Maryland is back at full strength with Diamond Miller back in the fold. Miller’s return to the lineup can not be underestimated by any measure. A First Team All-Big Ten player in her own right, Miller not only brings additional star power to Maryland’s lineup but brings the rotation to eight players instead of a thin seven. Miller noted Friday how her knee feels “really, really strong,” and that is the best news possible for the Terps.

“Just excited to play basketball,” Miller said. “Just happy to be out there again and do what I love. Indiana just happens to be the opponent, so I’m gonna give it all no matter who I play.”

3. New year, new Terps? There have been some bumps and bruises in Maryland’s mission to win a national championship in 2022, but it seems to be in great shape heading into the new year and the heart of Big Ten play. Over Thanksgiving in The Bahamas, the Terps were missing Miller, Benzan and junior guard/forward Faith Masonius, leading to two losses to top-10 opponents in NC State and Stanford. Maryland’s only other loss was at No. 1 South Carolina, a game it stayed in until the end and only lost by seven points.

The Terps have managed to string together some solid wins over then-No. 6 Baylor and Miami despite being shorthanded for the majority of the season. As long as the roster stays healthy, Maryland has a chance to do something special in 2022. That starts on Sunday against Indiana.

“To be completely healthy,” Frese said of her New Year’s resolution for her team. “...We’re trending that way when you look at our practices right now. They’ve been a lot of fun and we’re definitely trending in the right direction.”