Leading by nine with just less than six minutes to play, Maryland was searching for any separation it could get from a pesky Minnesota squad.
Graduate student guard Katie Benzan, who had only made one of her previous eight threes on the day, has never been unconfident from distance, no matter how she is performing. So when Benzan received a perfect pass from junior guard Ashley Owusu in the right corner, she calmly caught it in rhythm and drained it.
On the ensuing Minnesota possession, graduate student forward/guard Chloe Bibby stole a bad pass from junior guard Sara Scalia, getting fouled in transition. Bibby, cool, calm and collected, sunk both shots at the free-throw line. Though it gave up an offensive rebound on its next defensive possession, Maryland forced a Minnesota turnover. Sophomore forward/guard Angel Reese made a layup, capping off a 7-0 Maryland run.
Though the spurt only lasted 48 seconds, it was enough to give Maryland the space it needed in an eventual 87-73 victory. Bibby went off for a team-high 23 points, leading the Terps to their fourth conference victory and a 12-4 record.
“[Minnesota was] really ready to play, but really proud of our response,” Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said. “I mean, obviously to go on the road, and I thought we came out early in the first quarter, then a terrific response by Minnesota. But, I thought our second half is where it was at. We changed up our defense, we were really unselfish when we’re sharing the basketball like we were and just some great plays.”
Maryland rolled out a starting five with junior guard Diamond Miller in it for the second straight game, sending redshirt junior forward Mimi Collins to the role of “sixth man.” Minnesota would be without its head coach Lindsay Whalen for the second straight game because of an emergency appendectomy surgery, while its second-leading scorer Jasmine Powell was unavailable because of a family matter.
The undermanned Golden Gophers stuck around early, trading shots with the Terps in a high-scoring affair prior to making it a 14-12 game in favor of Maryland at the first media timeout. However, the narrative changed with a 10-2 Maryland run on the flip side of the first-quarter media timeout.
It is known that Miller adds another layer of stardom to this Maryland team, but her dynamism on the offensive end adds the element that makes the offense so hard to guard with all of its weapons. Whether it is a no-hesitation triple or taking it to the cup with her left hand, Miller is such a difficult player to limit, especially when you have to keep tabs on every other Maryland-known commodity that can attack from the perimeter and inside.
Miller finished the first quarter with 10 points — the exact gap of Maryland’s 24-14 lead through 10 minutes of action — while Collins had five early points in her new bench role.
It seemed like Maryland was well on its way to pulling away in its typical fashion in the second quarter, but graduate student guard Deja Winters had other ideas. Winters erased any thought of freezing cold temperatures in Minneapolis, turning “The Barn” into a sauna with a second-quarter explosion.
“Deja Winters was fantastic, we had no answer for her in the second quarter,” Frese said. “She got red hot, obviously from the three-point line. We were disappointed that she had 15 points at halftime.”
Winters hit four straight threes in a span of about two and a half minutes, cutting the Maryland lead to as little as 29-26 with about six minutes to play in the half. The good thing for Maryland is that it has junior guard Ashley Owusu, a cold-blooded marksman in her own right. Although it seemed like Winters’ rampage could put Minnesota in front, Owusu hit back-to-back second-quarter threes, settling the winter storm.
Still, it was a tougher second quarter for Maryland, which was outscored 22-17 and allowed the Golden Gophers to drill four three-pointers in the frame. Bibby was steady in the first half, leading Maryland with 12 points — matching her total from Thursday’s game against Penn State — for a 41-36 halftime lead.
Sophomore forward/guard Angel Reese, who did not have a huge first half with only four points, came out with a purpose in the third quarter, scoring the first four points of the period to extend Maryland’s lead to nine.
Minnesota would not disappear, though, rattling off a 7-0 run to slice the Maryland lead to 45-43 with just over six and a half minutes to play in the third quarter, forcing Frese to burn a timeout.
Every time Maryland generated points, Minnesota answered. Reese really started to produce in the third, totaling 12 points on perfect 6-of-6 shooting by the period’s media timeout.
Maryland ripped off an extended 12-4 run lasting more than four minutes to create some separation with a 61-52 lead late in the third quarter. But, Minnesota showed incredible resilience through 30 minutes, including 20 points from Winters, and only trailed 63-56 heading into the final quarter.
The Golden Gophers made it a two-possession game once again with two free throws from Scalia cut the lead to five. A timely three-pointer from freshman guard Shyanne Sellers brought Maryland’s lead back to eight and regained momentum for Maryland. Bibby smoothly hit a three from the wing with about eight minutes to make the lead double-digits again.
“My teammates were finding me,” said Bibby of her best offensive game of the season. “I thought [Ashley] did a phenomenal job just being a floor general, as Coach B said. Always feel good when the ball is in her hands, we know she's going to make a great decision either way, and my teammates were finding me.”
The 7-0 run that soon followed helped Maryland escape, and the rest was history. Maryland extended its lead to a game-high 16 with less than one minute to play, icing the win.
Maryland now gets a well-deserved week off before its matchup with Michigan on Sunday.
“As coaches, we love it because we can game plan and do a lot of different things,” Frese said of the break. “From their end, I don’t know if they want that many practices, to be quite honest. Coaches love it, players probably hate it. They’d rather play games.”
Three things to know
1. The Terps were outrebounded but made enough adjustments to win. Minnesota grabbed seven offensive rebounds in the first 20 minutes — likely to the chagrin of Frese — leading to nine first-half second-chance points. Maryland also lost the overall rebounding battle in the first half, 20-17. The Golden Gophers have size with four rotation players standing at 6-foot-2 or taller but certainly did not have the inside presence to overwhelm Maryland. The Terps won the second-half rebounding battle by one, and they did enough to grab 10 offensive rebounds compared to only six for Minnesota throughout the game.
2. Though it got close at times, Maryland never relinquished its lead. Despite missing its head coach and one of its best players, the Golden Gophers would not fade for the majority of the game. The game was tied twice, but Maryland held the lead for a total of just less than 38 minutes of the game. The Terps were tested, but they were brilliant in never letting its lead dissipate.
“Never giving up,” Owusu said. “We know when we come on the road, Coach always says, got to be 10 points better on the road. So I think just coming in, especially after halftime, and really lock in defensively and focusing on us.”
3. Angel Reese had a big second-half showing to help propel the Terps. Reese made both of her shots in the first half but only had four points at the break, making it a relatively quiet half for Maryland’s star big. In the second half, though, Reese exploded, and she did not miss a shot until there were less than four minutes remaining in the game. Minnesota had some size, but it did not have the artillery to keep up with Reese in the second half. She finished with another double-double, scoring 19 points on 9-of-11 shooting and grabbing 10 rebounds.
“I thought she was allowing the game to come a little bit more to us, I thought the ball was sticking in the first half,” Frese said of Reese. “...Needing her to play on both ends of the floor. She’s our anchor defensively, so got to be able to have both ends of the floor. But, terrific response. I thought she was super efficient to go 9-for-11, and we need her to be efficient, defend, rebound. Terrific response.”