Maryland women’s basketball’s undefeated streak in conference openers since joining the Big Ten in 2014-15 came to a close Sunday afternoon, as Nebraska upset the No. 20 Terps, 90-67.
The Terps collapsed in the second half, and their return home to XFINITY Center after four games on the road ended in disappointing fashion, as they fell to 7-3 on the season.
Maryland was 15-0 against Nebraska all-time prior to Sunday.
Here are three takeaways from the Terps’ tough defeat.
Maryland had an embarrassing defensive display in the second half.
Maryland entered halftime with a five-point advantage. What ensued in the second half was an abomination of sorts. The Huskers outscored the Terps, 59-31, in the last 20 minutes. In the third quarter alone, Nebraska scored 39 points.
“We had way too many breakdowns where they just drove us to the middle to get us to help and kicked out for threes,” Frese said. “... We talked a lot about disrupting and dictating in this game and that wasn’t there and it starts with guarding the ball and then from there on out of they give us a lot of problems.”
Nebraska deserves credit for hitting its shots, though. It finished the half 18-for-28 from the field, and 12-for-25 from distance.
Nebraska head coach Amy Williams hounded on her team’s near-perfect execution on the attack in the second half.
“We looked to push the tempo and transition a lot better in the second half, and that really gave us more offensive possessions to to put the points up on the board,” Williams said.
Perimeter defense has been a huge concern for Frese all season long, with her squad ranking among Division I’s worst in 3-point field goal percentage against. Their opponents are draining the three ball at a 31.6% mark, which puts the Terps 3-point defense at just the 216th best in the country.
“Every team can shoot the three and that’s just an area for us that we’re going to have to continue to keep repping in practice and showing film,” Frese told the media.
Maryland will play a Purdue team on Thursday that is shooting close to 37% from distance on the season.
An imperfect start finally costed the Terps.
Early struggles have been a common theme of recent, and Sunday was no exception. The Terps came out of the gates playing sloppy basketball, surrendering five turnovers in the first quarter and finding themselves in an early 11-4 hole. But as they did in their victory against Notre Dame, on the back of secondary scoring, they clawed back into the game, evening up the score at the end of one.
“We have to get off to a better start,” senior guard Brinae Alexander said.
Maryland couldn’t ever pull away Sunday, though. Despite holding a five-point lead at the half, the game was always competitive.
The Cornhuskers stayed toe-to-toe with the Terps all day, and they were able to recapture a lead from Maryland late in the third quarter. They took that lead and ran away with it.
Nebraska carved up Maryland’s defense and shot the lights out in the second half. Junior guard Jaz Shelley finished the afternoon with 29 points on 6-for-9 shooting from deep, and the Huskers pulled away in the fourth.
“[Nebraska] exposed us in every way possible,” Frese said.
Suddenly, Sunday’s game was in its waning moments with the visitors dominating in every facet, bringing a lead up to 20.
It was only a matter of time before those early deficits became insurmountable, and the Terps got a reality check in the conference opener.
“We’re continuing to evaluate,” Frese added. “We’ve said this as a staff, by no means is the starting lineup in place. We’re still continuing to learn about players and we’re still trying to get levels of consistency. That might be from half to half and then game to game. But that level of consistency means nothing when when you go to Notre Dame and you come back and give a low-level type of effort in a game like this.”
Maryland’s stars struggled immensely.
It’s very difficult to win when your scorers don’t score, and that’s especially true in conference play. Diamond Miller and Abby Meyers, who have led the Terps all season long, couldn’t find their stroke on Sunday.
Miller, fresh off a 31-point performance against Notre Dame, was cold from the onset. With six representatives from the Washington Mystics in attendance, the probable top-five pick in the upcoming WNBA draft went 0-for-4 from the field and picked up two fouls in the opening minutes, forcing Frese to send her to the bench. She finished the half with just six minutes played.
“It really hurts when Diamond had to sit that second quarter,” Frese said.
Miller bounced back with 13 second-half points, but her impact was too little, too late.
Meyers’ struggles matched Miller’s, with the former Princeton guard finishing with a season-low two points on 1-for-7 shooting. Her seven shots attempted were tied for her fewest attempts on the year. Her three turnovers also matched a season-high.
“We need Abby to do more. We need Lavender [Briggs]. We need our vets to step up and they’re more than capable,” Frese said.