No. 12 Maryland women’s basketball badly needed to get back in the win column, and it was apparent for most of Sunday that Northwestern could not stop it from doing so.
Leading 53-35 with fewer than four minutes to play in the third quarter, Maryland would embark on a run that would not officially end the game, but it certainly felt like it.
On the defensive end, graduate student guard Katie Benzan dove for the steal from Northwestern freshman guard Jillian Brown. The play resulted in a jump ball, giving Maryland possession, but it was the type of hustle that embodies both Benzan and Maryland basketball.
Next, off a cross-court pass from graduate student forward/guard Chloe Bibby, junior guard Ashley Owusu sunk a three-pointer from the wing. A dropped pass on the ensuing Northwestern possession gave Maryland the ball back, and it was Benzan yelling a play call to her teammates. Sure enough, she would be right there in the corner to nail a three. Maryland followed it with another stop, as First Team All-Big Ten guard Veronica Burton was called for a charge. Bibby made a turnaround jumper on the other end to cap off an 8-0 run that put Maryland up 26 points.
Maryland avoided its first three-game losing streak since February 2018, closing out the Wildcats, 87-59. Benzan led the Terps with 17 points in the triumph.
“I loved our effort and energy from the start today,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “When I watched the game on Thursday, I saw the effort and the energy, which is something we need to have every day. We want to continue to build on this, we love how it felt today.”
Following a one-game absence due to attending funeral arrangements for her father Bill, Frese was welcomed back to the sideline Sunday afternoon.
Maryland did not get on the scoreboard until Benzan hit a triple about two and a half minutes in, but it was not quite the slow start it had the past two games against Michigan and Ohio State, respectively.
The first quarter was not the Terps’ strongest, but an 18-14 lead through 10 minutes was an improvement. Maryland filled it up with 64% shooting and drilled four three-pointers in the first, but it turned the ball over six times early, including three from junior guard Diamond Miller.
“It was a point of emphasis for us, coming off the past two meetings,” Benzan said. “We want to punch first in every game and in every quarter, and in those two games we didn’t do that. So in this one, we really concentrated on being the first one to the ground, being the first one to score.”
The Terps began the second quarter on an 8-2 stretch that lasted nearly five minutes, clamping the Wildcats on the defensive end. Sensing that his team needed to get going before it was too late, Northwestern head coach Joe McKeown called his first timeout. His team responded with a deuce from sophomore forward Anna Morris, but Maryland would increase its gap from there.
Owusu hit a three-pointer, and threes from Benzan and Miller came after. It was a 9-0 Maryland run that brought its lead to 35-18 with around three minutes remaining in the first half.
The burst highlighted a dominant 21-9 second quarter for Maryland, which extended its lead to 39-23 at halftime. Benzan and Owusu each had nine points heading into the locker room, while Maryland held Burton to only 2-of-7 shooting from the field.
“I didn’t feel like they guarded her any different than they did the last couple years,” McKeown said. “I think we didn’t do a very good job of getting her, when she gave the ball up, getting it back to her. And because they rebounded, we couldn’t get out in transition, she’s a great transition point guard.”
Coming out of the halftime break with a 16-point advantage, it seemed like Maryland would coast right away after it ballooned its lead to 20, but Northwestern answered with four straight points to stay afloat.
The Wildcats strung together some response in the form of difficult layups, but they just could not contain Maryland. A Sellers straightaway three with just more than four minutes to play in the third quarter put Maryland’s lead back at 20, and it held a 53-35 grip on the game at the quarter’s media timeout.
In addition to the run to end the quarter, Bibby hit a buzzer-beating three which rimmed in, defining the type of night it was for Maryland.
Northwestern ripped off a 9-3 stretch to start the final quarter, but it was just not enough this late in the game. Sophomore guard Taisiya Kozlova and freshman forward Emma Chardon were able to check in for some Big Ten minutes, and Maryland could safely ride its way to victory.
With the win, the Terps improved to 13-6 overall and 5-3 in Big Ten play.
Three things to know
1. Maryland used a monster second-quarter showing to take control of the game. Just one week ago, the Terps had one of their worst performances in the second quarter against Michigan at home. Maryland had only scored three points against the Wolverines in the second period, making only one shot. Only seven days later and coming off a second-straight loss, it was Maryland that established its force in the game’s second frame. With Owusu playing all 10 minutes in the quarter, the Terps made four threes and held the Wildcats to 4-of-16 shooting. It was much-needed for a team that stumbled out of the gates in its last two games.
2. The Terps exploded from three-point range. In the first half alone, Maryland shot 8-of-15 from beyond the arc. It was one shy of its total three-pointers made in its last game against Ohio State and exceeded its three-point total in 12 of its previous games this season. The Terps ended the game with 18 threes made on 58% shooting from deep, decimating a team that is solid defensively. Benzan led the Terps with five three-pointers while Sellers hit four, as well.
“I think it’s very important for me to stay engaged at all times,” Sellers said. “I can’t play perfect every game... some people weren't doing how they usually do, and just giving them energy, fueling them back up and letting them know ‘you’re good, you got the next play’ really helped my game and opened up everything.”
3. Maryland’s want to defend the perimeter came into fruition with a stellar defensive performance. After the Ohio State loss, it was no secret that Maryland needed to improve its three-point defense. Michigan’s Maddie Nolan and Ohio State’s Taylor Mikesell destroyed Maryland in its last two games, combining to go 8-of-12 from deep. Against Northwestern? Maryland held the Wildcats to 5-of-20 shooting from deep, and no single Wildcat had more than two made threes.
“That’s the sign of a team that’s really trying to improve in that area, and quite honestly an area that we’ve got to get a lot better in,” Frese said. “So yeah, terrific response. I thought we did a much better job being able to match up.”