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No. 10 Maryland women’s basketball vs. Penn State preview

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The Terps are looking to rebound after their first conference loss.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

No. 10 Maryland picked up its fourth loss of the season Sunday against then-No. 8 Indiana, a program that has since been upgraded to the No. 6 team in the country. The AP selection committee deemed that four losses were enough to bump the Terps four places in the top-25 ranking, but each one of those defeats came against a top-10 team.

“We’ve had a chance obviously to go back with the team and review through film and learn a lot of lessons that I think obviously will make us a lot better come in the future,” head coach Brenda Frese said

Blowout losses suffered against NC State and Stanford in the Bahamas came when Maryland lacked several key players. Both graduate guard Katie Benzan and junior forward Faith Masonius didn’t travel with the team due to illness, and junior standout Diamond Miller was on the bench in athletic wear.

And before Indiana, the Terps fell in Columbia, South Carolina, to the No. 1 Gamecocks by just seven points. Frese has said multiple times throughout the season that she intentionally designed a challenging schedule early in the season so that her team could receive reps for tournament-style play.

The parity in college basketball is illustrated by a top-25 that has been in flux since the season began. Each week, it seems as if one high-profile school overtakes another, highlighting the competitive landscape of the college game.

The Terps have two winnable matches before hosting No. 8 Michigan on Jan. 16, an outing set to be nationally televised on ESPN2. But before rolling out the red carpet for the Wolverines, Maryland hosts Penn State before an away bout with the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Jan. 9.

“[Penn State] obviously they’re going to be excited to play,” Frese said. “You know that they’re going to understand the meaning of the game. It’s always a team that, because of the proximity, is always ready to play us. I expect it to be a great 40-minute game.”

The contest versus the Lady Lions is set for a 6 p.m. tipoff at Xfinity Center and will be streamed on the Big Ten Network.

Penn State Lady Lions (7-5, 1-1 Big Ten)

2020-21 record: 9-15 (6-13 Big Ten)

Head coach Carolyn Kieger is in her third season in charge of the Lady Lions. Before taking over at University Park, Kieger spent five seasons as the head coach for Marquette, earning a 100-64 record. Even more impressive is that the team improved in each of Kieger’s five seasons and made three appearances in the NCAA tournament.

Under her guidance, Marquette won the 2017 Big East tournament and the 2018 Big East regular season. In 2018, Kieger also was named the Big East Co-Coach of the Year, thanks to a 24-10 record.

Through two full seasons and the beginning of 2021-22, Kieger holds a 23-43 record, but it’s important to acknowledge that she made the leap from the Big East to the Big Ten, one of the most competitive athletic conferences in the country. Penn State is 1-1 in league play, suffering a blowout loss to Indiana but bouncing back for a six-point victory over Rutgers.

“[She’s] doing a great job,” Frese said of Kieger. “It’s a team that likes to play fast, and she’s done a terrific job in a rebuilding situation to bring a lot of players in that fit her personality.”

Players to know

Makenna Marisa, junior guard, 5-foot-11, No. 20 — After averaging 13.4 points, five rebounds and five assists a season ago, Marisa has made an incredible jump to lead Penn State with a 21.1/4.3/4.8 stat line. Not only does she lead her team in scoring, the junior guard also is the third-highest scorer in the Big Ten, trailing only Caitlin Clark of Iowa and Nia Clouden of Michigan State. Marisa also has the sixth-most assists in the conference. The Lady Lions run their offense through Marisa, and Thursday won’t be any different.

“She’s a talent,” Frese said of Marisa. “I mean, high-level score high energy.”

Ali Brigham, sophomore forward, 6-foot-4, No. 1 — After transferring to Penn State from George Washington — where she led the team in scoring as a freshman — Brigham has established herself as a force. She is second on the team in scoring with 12.3 points, leads with 5.7 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. The sophomore transfer also tops the team in field goal percentage, knocking down 58% of her shots.

Niya Beverley, senior guard, 5-foot-7, No. 4 — Following three productive seasons at Wisconsin, Beverley swapped Madison for University Park; she does a little bit of everything for Penn State. The super senior is averaging 6.6 points, 2.4 rebounds, 1.5 assists and is 12-for-29 from behind the arc. Beverley also takes care of the ball — she led the Big Ten last year with a 3.88 assist/turnover ratio.

Strength

Makenna Marisa. As one of the premier scoring threats in a power five conference, Marisa gives her team a true 20-point-per-game player. Her season-high in points is 33, which came against Duquesne. Marisa has made quite the jump from year two to three, and she certainly is the ace Penn State has lacked in recent seasons. At nearly six-feet tall, Marisa not only has the height to impact the game on the glass, but she is also crafty enough to make plays and involve her teammates.

Weakness

Depth. Outside of Marisa and Brigham, no player is close to cracking double-digit scoring for the Lady Lions. In other words, Marisa’s efforts aren’t always enough for the win. For example, against No. 6 Indiana, outside of 21 from their top player, the Lady Lions’ next highest scorer was Brigham, who had eight. Third on the team was Leilani Kapinus with four. Put another way, if a team manages to stifle Marisa, there is not a lot of scoring depth for Penn State to rely on.

Three things to watch

1. How will Maryland plan for the absence of Faith Masonius? Frese confirmed in pregame media availability that Masonius tore her left ACL on a non-contact play versus Indiana — after intercepting a pass, Masonius, who has been the first player off the bench for Frese this season, twisted her knee after planting awkwardly. Maryland will now be without one of its essential bench pieces moving forward.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed, but blessed to really have a tremendous rehab team here,” Frese said. “Given the person that Faith is and how hard she works, we know she’ll be back and ready for us come next season.”

“On the court, we just were playing for her,” Benzan said. “We’re all disappointed that she’s not able to bring her energy out on the court. And we know she’s gonna bring that same energy, that same positivity on the bench, but on the court, we all have to play for her.”

2. How long will it take to fully incorporate Diamond Miller? In just her fourth game of the season — second logging more than 11 minutes — Miller looked most of the player named to the All-Big Ten First Team a season ago. Against the Hoosiers, Miller put up 17 points, four rebounds and four steals. That was the good. The not-so-good came in the form of five turnovers, three fouls and 36% shooting from the field. After the Indiana contest, Frese complimented Miller’s effort but also emphasized that the team is still getting used to playing with the junior guard and vice versa.

“Diamond’s just trending up,” Frese said. “You saw those minutes that she was able to play against Indiana — high-level minutes. The knee looks good, so now it’s just really kind of working through her cardio and getting her to a place where she can play really high-level minutes.”

3. Which top-10 scorer will come out ahead, Marisa or Reese? Thursday will treat viewers to a battle of two of the Big Ten’s most electric offensive players in Makenna Marisa and sophomore guard/forward Angel Reese. Marisa is third in the conference with 21.1 points per game, while Reese is sixth with 18.4. The two players are unlikely to go toe-to-toe — Marisa is a facilitator, Reese is a force in the paint — but each will be equally vital to their team’s success and can single-handedly change the course of the match.

“Obviously [Angel is] a quick jumper,” Frese said of her sophomore star. “She’s able to go and get a lot of her misses, but I think she can be rebounding even harder for us to be quite honest. She’s so talented and rebounding I think is only just going to continue to get better.”