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No. 8 Maryland women’s basketball vs. No. 11 Michigan preview

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Michigan is Maryland’s sixth top-11 opponent of the season.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics
UMTerps

After one week of no games, No. 8 Maryland women’s basketball returns to the Xfinity Center for Sunday’s marquee showdown against No. 11 Michigan.

“Obviously really excited for this top-15, top-10 matchup against Michigan,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “The team [has] had a great week of practices. Really focused, really motivated, and another opportunity for us to play against some of the best competition in the country.”

The Terps have a chance to extend their winning streak to three against the Wolverines. Maryland is coming off back-to-back double-digit wins over Penn State and Minnesota, respectively. The Golden Gophers gave Maryland a run for its money last Sunday, but it ultimately never relinquished the lead, holding it for more than 38 minutes. Graduate student forward/guard Chloe Bibby had her best offensive performance of the season against Minnesota, scoring 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting.

The performance against Minnesota also summed up some key facets of Maryland basketball. Frese’s squad — which had the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the nation last season — had 23 assists to only eight turnovers against the Golden Gophers. The Terps also pushed the tempo, scoring 19 fast break points and 22 points off turnovers. Throw in nine three-pointers from Maryland and it can really be seen that this offense is starting to click.

With seven days between games for Maryland, there has to be a benefit of the rest and preparation time ahead of an opponent like Michigan.

“Just having the bye week and being able to go hard, but also being able to rest our bodies and watch film and do everything we need to do to prepare for the team,” junior guard Ashley Owusu said.

Sunday’s tilt will be another national TV showcase for Maryland, starting at 5 p.m. and airing on ESPN.

No. 11 Michigan Wolverines (14-2, 5-1 Big Ten)

2020-21 record: 16-6 (9-4 Big Ten)

Michigan is led by head coach Kim Barnes Arico, who is in her 10th season in the position. Barnes Arico was praised for an incredible season in 2016-17, earning Big Ten Coach of the Year honors after leading the Wolverines to a school-best 28 wins and a WNIT title. Since that season, Barnes Arico has brought Michigan to each of the last three NCAA tournaments — the postseason was not held in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic — and a Sweet 16 in 2021. Before arriving in Ann Arbor in 2012, Barnes Arico was head coach of St. John’s for 10 seasons.

The Wolverines, who are winners of seven of their last eight, have been battle-tested with four top-25 opponents. Michigan is 3-1 in such games, defeating Oregon State, Ohio State and Baylor while losing at Louisville. Maryland and Michigan have played five similar opponents, and both teams are 5-0 in those games. Michigan last played on Thursday, defeating Penn State on the road, 74-57.

Players to know

Naz Hillmon, senior forward, 6-foot-2, No. 00 — It seems like Maryland has gone through the gauntlet of elite post players, and Hillmon is next on the list. The reigning Big Ten Player of the Year and a First Team All-American, Hillmon is simply a force. She averages 20.1 points per game, which is top-20 in the nation as of Friday, and 8.5 rebounds per game. Hillmon does turn the ball over 3.5 times per contest, but Michigan can live with that given her dominance elsewhere. Hillmon’s play allows Michigan to generate offense both inside and outside, and she will be another big test inside for sophomore forward/guard Angel Reese.

“It’s gonna take a collective team effort,” said Frese of limiting Hillmon. “Obviously she’s a great player, she’s gonna score and rebound. I think for us, so it’s just making her really have to work, making those shots and extra opportunities really difficult for her to be able to go get.”

Leigha Brown, senior guard, 6-foot-1, No. 32 — Brown is technically a senior, but it has already been announced she will use her fifth season of eligibility in 2022-23. Brown is the clear second option behind Hillmon, averaging 15.5 points and a team-leading 3.2 assists per game. A Second Team All-Big Ten honoree, Brown spent her first two seasons at Nebraska before making the intra-conference jump to Michigan.

Emily Kiser, senior forward, 6-foot-3, No. 33 — Having never averaged more than three points per game in her first three seasons, Kiser has taken a massive step in scoring production here in 2022. Kiser is the Wolverines’ third-leading scorer at 10.6 points per game and only one of three Wolverines that average double-digit scoring. Kiser is also a menace on the glass, averaging 8.1 rebounds and 2.4 offensive rebounds per game.

Strength

Keeping opponents off the free-throw line. By most accounts, Michigan has one of the Big Ten’s best defenses. The Wolverines rank third in the nation in scoring defense and fifth in opponent field goal percentage, but a closer look at the statistics provides a fascinating look. In 16 games this season, the Terps have attempted 328 free throws. In Michigan’s 16 games, it has only allowed 202 free throw attempts, the second-lowest in the conference. Something has to give Sunday, but if Michigan can keep Maryland away from the charity stripe, it could have a clear advantage.

Weakness

Three-point shooting. If there is one category that the Wolverines have not excelled in, it is producing from distance. Michigan has only made 77 triples this season and only sinks 4.8 threes per game, both of which rank bottom-three in the Big Ten. Maryland, with the 11th-best three-point defense in terms of field goal percentage in the conference, has not been completely staunch on the defensive perimeter. If the Terps can limit the Wolverines from three-point range, they could be in for a more complete defensive game.

Three things to watch

1. Sunday’s game is huge for the Big Ten standings. Both Maryland and Michigan stand one game back of first-place Indiana in the loss column. The Terps have already lost to the Hoosiers, while Michigan has not played them yet. Maryland will get another crack at Indiana in its last game of the Big Ten regular season, one that could be a de facto title game. With that being said, Maryland must beat contending Michigan if it wants to win at least a share of its fourth-straight Big Ten regular-season title. The Terps will hop the Wolverines in the standings with a victory.

“Every game is equally important,” Frese said. “...Every game, you’re gonna have to bring your best game or you’re gonna get beat, regardless if it’s a top opponent...No different emphasis. I think our players, obviously they know what a great team Michigan is and the success that they had last year, we watched it in the NCAA Tournament.”

2. Can Ashley Owusu stay hot? Perhaps the most important development outside of the impactful return of junior guard Diamond Miller has been Owusu getting back on track. Over Maryland’s three-game stretch from Dec. 12 to Jan. 2, Owusu was only averaging 9.3 points per game on 10-of-41 shooting and turned the ball over 11 times. Against Penn State and Minnesota? She averaged 17.5 points, five rebounds and 6.5 assists per game and turned the ball over once. Maryland will be in great shape, both on a game-by-game and long-term basis, if those performances continue.

3. Can the Terps strengthen their grip over Michigan? In 11 all-time meetings since their series began in 2011, the Terps own a 10-1 edge on the Wolverines. Maryland’s lone loss to the Wolverines came on the road on Feb. 2, 2018, where it lost by six. Still, the Terps have won each of their last three games with the Wolverines by at least 15 points each. This year, however, Michigan is more of a contender than ever.

“We love competing here,” Bibby said. “So just another opportunity to get out on the court and show everyone what we can do and how we can play together, so just super excited to get back out there.”