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No. 17 Maryland women’s basketball vs. Rutgers preview (part two)

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The Terps will look to keep things rolling in New Jersey after a convincing win over Northwestern.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

With a 13-6 record, No. 17 Maryland women’s basketball play hosts for an evening game against Rutgers on Thursday. It will be the second meeting between the Terps and the Scarlet Knights this season. The two sides most recently met on Dec. 5 in which the Terps won by 14.

With only junior guard Faith Masonius out — torn ACL — and junior guard Diamond Miller working her way back to full health following a knee injury, Maryland has the most dangerous components of its roster back in action.

“She’s just getting herself back in shape now,” head coach Brenda Frese said of Miller. “She’s really starting to get back, but there’s another level and another gear for her, but I think the comfort level with the team now with the amount of reps that they’re getting to have with her [has been beneficial].”

The talent the Terps roll out every game makes them one of the top teams in the country; the team has multiple players who can go off for 15-plus points on any given night. The team displayed unselfishness and grit in its most recent victory over Northwestern, so Rutgers should be on high alert.

“We’re trying to groove through things,” sophomore Angel Reese said. “Getting everybody back confident, that’s the biggest thing right now, just getting everybody back on their confidence level and playing their game.”

Thursday’s matchup will be on the Big Ten Network at 7 p.m. Let’s look at Maryland’s second and final regular-season matchup with the Scarlet Knights.

What happened last time

The last time the two East Coast rivals met, Rutgers managed to stay competitive through the first quarter, as Maryland took a two-point lead into the break. Things fell apart for Rutgers in the second frame, though as the Scarlet Knights scored just seven points.

Still, Rutgers outrebounded Maryland 35-28, an area the team has worked on in practice leading up to the contest.

“They really exposed us in the first game,” Frese said of the Scarlet Knight’s rebounding. “So it’s going to be collective where we’ve got to make a conscious effort every single time the shot goes up to box out.”

The rest of the game was scripted, and Maryland had little to worry about en route to a 14-point victory. Even though Rutgers outscored Maryland in the fourth quarter, the damage already had been done.

The Terps had four players reach double-digit scoring. Forward/guard Angel Reese (18 points), guard Katie Benzan (15), forward/guard Chloe Bibby (14) and guard Ashley Owusu (12) each had a productive outing. The win was all the more impressive considering Maryland had an uncharacteristically poor game from behind the arc, making just 3-of-13 looks.

On the defensive end, the Terps forced Rutgers into 19 turnovers, and the Scarlet Knights made just 22-of-66 attempts from the field with only 13 assists.

What’s happened since

Since the two teams met in early December, Maryland has had little difficulty in conference play when facing unranked opposition. The only league loss to an unranked opponent was to Ohio State, now ranked 22nd, but the Buckeyes have been on the cusp or in the top-25 ranking all season.

The Terps took care of business against Rutgers, Purdue, Penn State, Minnesota and Northwestern, winning by a combined score of 439-340. The bumps in the Big Ten since have come against ranked opponents and Ohio State; Maryland suffered an overtime loss to No. 6 Indiana and a 20-point defeat at the hands of No. 7 Michigan.

After finishing 10-3 in conference play a season ago, Rutgers has yet to win against a conference opponent. The Scarlet Knights are 0-8 in the Big Ten and have struggled to find any consistency against conference rivals. Their most recent match was a nine-point loss to Ohio State at home on Sunday.

“[We’re going up against] a Rutgers team that we know will come in here really hungry and motivated to be able to get a conference win,” Frese said. “They’ve played a lot of opponents really, really close. We’re gonna have to do our job on both ends of the floor as well as keeping them off the glass.”

Three things to watch

1. How will Maryland’s offense follow up one of its most productive outings? Fresh off of a 28-point drubbing of Northwestern, in which five players reach double digits, the Terps are poised to have another productive offensive game. Rutgers gave Maryland a bit of a scare early in the season, but things should be fine if the Maryland that defeated the Wildcats this past weekend comes to play on Thursday.

“I thought it started with our inside-outside passing,” Frese said of the team’s offensive output against Northwestern. “The unselfishness by our bigs, you know, this was a game where our shooters were knocking down threes, and we really didn’t need to do more than that. I thought kind of inside-outside plays, the rebounds to kick-outs we’re all really important.”

2. Can Owusu keep things going? It’s pretty simple: Maryland goes as Ashley Owusu does. As the team’s leader, floor general and reserved superstar, Owusu’s poor performances have coincided with several of Maryland’s key losses. Here are her stats against Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State, respectively: 10 points, one assist, seven turnovers; four points, one helper, three giveaways; 12 points, five assists, five turnovers. The Virginia native put up 15 points, six assists and two turnovers against Northwestern and the team will need that version of Owusu moving forward.

“She’s playing a lot harder on both ends of the floor,” Frese said of Owusu. “When you put that kind of energy and effort together, then your game comes together. I like the place that Ashley’s at; I thought the practices she’s been stacking has translated to how she’s playing on both ends of the floor.”

3. Can the Terps string together a run of conference wins? Maryland is in the midst of a forgiving portion of the schedule; they face Rutgers, Penn State (3-5 in the Big Ten), Michigan State (4-3), Nebraska (2-4) and Wisconsin (2-6). Realistically, the Terps should hope to emerge from this stretch a perfect 5-0. More important than the wins, however, would be the confidence a winning streak would instill upon a team that has faced its fair share of hurdles this season. And while it’s easy to look ahead, Brenda Frese undoubtedly will have her team locked in and focused on Thursday’s bout with Rutgers.

“I feel like now we have everyone back,” Frese said. “And we know where our rotations are at. For us, it’s just taking [things] one day at a time, each practice and each game.”