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No. 10 Maryland women’s basketball vs. Minnesota preview

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The Terps travel to the Twin Cities for an afternoon bout with the Golden Gophers.

Courtesy of Maryland Athletics
UMTerps

When asked about the team's mindset following the injury to junior guard Faith Masonius, graduate guard Katie Benzan said, “we’re playing for her.” And the Terps did just that Thursday against Penn State.

Junior forward Diamond Miller led the way with a season-high 24 points; junior guard Ashley Owusu put up 20 after struggling against No. 6 Indiana; sophomore Angel Reese had yet another double-double; freshman Shyanne Sellers reached double-figure scoring for the seventh time this season and graduate forward Chloe Bibby added 12.

“A terrific response obviously from our team,” head coach Brenda Frese said after the Penn State win. “I thought they set the tone on both ends of the floor to start the game.”

No. 10 Maryland now heads for Minneapolis to take on the Golden Gophers coming off of a strong defensive showing.

“It starts with our defense,” Frese said. “I thought we set the tone right away. We were really aggressive and in the passing lanes. Offensively, we really pushed [the] tempo. We were really unselfish, moving the basketball, and that’s really what Maryland basketball looks like.”

The contest versus the Golden Gophers is set for Sunday with a 3 p.m. tipoff at Williams Arena and will be streamed on the BTN Plus.

Minnesota Golden Gophers (8-7, 1-2 Big Ten)

2020-21 record: 9-15 (7-11 Big Ten)

Head coach Lindsay Whalen is in her fourth season in charge of her alma mater. During her four years in Minneapolis, Whalen became the program’s all-time leading scorer, logging 2,285 points. She also finished second all-time in assists and third all-time in steals.

After a prolific career in the WNBA where she won four titles, was a five-time all-star and three-time All-WNBA first-teamer, among other accolades, Whalen returned to Minnesota to lead the program in a new direction after the departure of Marlene Stollings. Since her arrival, Whalen has a 52-44 overall record but has struggled in Big Ten play, going 27-42.

Whalen did not coach against Rutgers as she had successful, emergency appendectomy surgery, per a release from the program and was recovering. Rather, associate head coach Carly Thibault-Dudonis served as the acting head coach. The Gophers won that matchup, a bounce-back win after falling to Drake in December.

Players to know

Sara Scalia, junior guard, 5-foot-10, No. 14 — As one of the leaders for her team, Scalia pours in 15.1 points per game for the Golden Gophers. She also leads the team in three-point field-goal percentage, knocking down 46 of her 108 attempts (42.6%). Scalia has the fifth-best shooting percentage in the conference, and her ability to knock down shots from behind the arc gives Minnesota their very own Katie Benzan (third-best from three).

Jasmine Powell, junior guard, 5-foot-6, No. 4 — Second only to Scalia in scoring, Powell is averaging 13.5 points per game. Not only is Powell a high-leverage scorer, but she is also an elite distributor and playmaker — the Detroit native leads the team with 5.7 assists per game. Finding open teammates is what Powell does, and the electric guard ranks third in the Big Ten in helpers.

Kadi Sissoko, redshirt junior forward, 6-foot-2, No. 30 — Sissoko’s 10.7 points per game are third on the team, and the Paris native grabs 5.7 boards per game. In addition to leading the team on the glass, Sissoko is a top-20 rebounder in the conference and can cause problems in the paint.

Strength

Three-point shooting. Having a 43% three-point shooter never hurts, but Minnesota is more than just Scalia when it comes to scoring from the outside. Four Golden Gophers have attempted at least 56 threes — Scalia (108 tries), Deja Winters (78), Gadiva Hubbard (63) and Powell (56) — and the lowest shooting percentage of those four is 36%. With four perimeter shooters, Minnesota could give Maryland trouble from deep.

Weakness

Offense. The Golden Gophers currently rank 10th out of 14 Big Ten teams in terms of points per game. Averaging just 68.8 points a match, Minnesota does not have an elite scoring option. Yes, Scalia’s 15 points a game help, but Minnesota struggles with really opening games up on the offensive side of the ball. The lack of firepower could prove challenging against the Terrapins, a team with several players who can go off for 30 points.

Three things to watch

1. Will the Minnesota chill cool down Maryland’s red-hot offense? After stalling for 63 points against Indiana, the No. 10 team in the country bounced back against Penn State, putting up 106 points courtesy of double-digit scoring from five players. On the flip side, Minnesota’s defense held Rutgers to 49 points in its most recent game.

For Maryland, Miller made her first start of the season on Thursday, and the all-conference guard will look to continue her strong run of play since returning from injury in Minneapolis.

“We have a great group of girls, and I love to play with them,” Miller said. “So just to play with my teammates again was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed it.”

2. Can Angel Reese get her 10th double-double on the season? Against the Lady Lions, Reese collected her ninth double-double of the season. The Baltimore native put up 15 points and 14 rebounds. Not only was Reese a force on the defensive glass, but she also had eight offensive rebounds, which added to her nation-leading 5.2 offensive boards a game. Minnesota isn’t the tallest team, so Reese could be in line to notch her 10th double-double of the year.

“She’s so active around the rim,” Frese said of Reese. “[It] gives us a lot of great opportunities. I think that’s a hard scout when you don’t know when she’s gonna go up and finish the layup versus when she’s been doubled and tripled teamed to being able to kick it out to a wide-open shooter.”

3. Maryland has been dominant in the Big Ten since joining the conference, will that continue against Minnesota? Since the Terps joined the Big Ten in 2014, in conference games, the Terps are 131-16 (.891). Maryland is also 103-1 when holding their league opponents to 70 points or less. An important note here: Minnesota averages under 70 points a game.

Also, in the past four seasons, Maryland is 62-2 when scoring 80 points or more. This year, the Terps average 83.1 points per game and outscored the Gophers last season 184-135 through two meetings.