No. 13 Maryland women’s basketball (18-6, 10-3 Big Ten) heads to Iowa City, Iowa, to take on the No. 22 Iowa Hawkeyes in a nationally-televised matchup Monday night.
“I love, obviously, where our team is at right now,” Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said. “Really stacking practices and games together, really kind of feel like we’re peaking at the right time here.”
The Terps put forth their best defensive performance of the season last Wednesday, defeating Wisconsin, 70-43. The 43 points that Maryland gave up was the fewest all season and the lowest mark since it allowed only 41 points to Georgia State on Dec. 18, 2019.
Sophomore forward/guard Angel Reese had a typical performance against the Badgers, scoring 19 points and grabbing nine boards. Graduate student forward/guard Chloe Bibby was not far behind with 16 points, and Maryland improved to 14-2 in games where she scores in double figures.
As of Saturday afternoon, star junior guard Ashley Owusu remains day-to-day with an ankle sprain. Owusu was wearing a boot and walking with a considerable limp during Maryland’s Feb. 6 game against Nebraska, but she was out of the boot last Wednesday. Updates on Owusu’s status will be provided accordingly.
Barring Maryland’s postponed Dec. 30 game against Illinois getting rescheduled – a team spokesperson confirmed there was no update as of Wednesday – Monday’s game is the last unique opponent on its regular-season schedule. The Terps will end the season with rematches against Ohio State, Michigan and Indiana, respectively.
Monday’s game will air on ESPN2 and is set for a 9 p.m. tip. Let’s dive into what the Hawkeyes bring to the table.
Iowa Hawkeyes (16-6, 10-3 Big Ten)
2020-21 record: 20-10 (11-8 Big Ten)
Head coach Lisa Bluder is in her 22nd year at the helm of the Iowa women’s basketball program. The three-time Big Ten Coach of the Year has taken the Hawkeyes to new heights, bringing them to their first Elite Eight in more than 25 years in 2019. According to her bio on Iowa’s athletic website, Bluder is in rarified air as one of only six active Division I head coaches to win at least 795 contests.
The Hawkeyes have alternated wins and losses in each of their last four games. In Iowa’s most recent showing last Wednesday, it defeated Minnesota, 88-78. Iowa is in a three-way deadlock with Maryland and Ohio State for third place in the Big Ten.
Players to Know
Caitlin Clark, sophomore guard, 6-foot, No. 22 – Clark is revolutionizing the way women’s college basketball is being played. With Stephen Curry-like three-point shots, the First Team All-American and reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year is taking the sport by storm. Clark has scored at least 30 points in eight games this season and leads Division I, both men’s and women’s, in scoring at 27.6 points per game. Perhaps even more impressive, though, is that Clark leads the nation in assists, as well. She averages 8.2 dimes per game and 8.1 rebounds per game to go with her scoring prowess.
“Well, obviously she’s a threat when she comes across half court,” Frese said. “You can tell she spends a lot of time in the gym. Her three-ball, her ability to get to the rim and the open court, and then I think just her other dimension is she can pass, she can rebound. So just a fierce competitor, someone that collectively we’re gonna have to have a great defensive team effort on her.”
Monika Czinano, senior forward/center, 6-foot-3, No. 25 — Remarkably enough, the Hawkeyes have not one, but two 20-plus points per game scorers. Czinano is a force inside, averaging 20.3 points per game on 64.5% shooting, a clip that ranked third nationally as of Friday. A First Team All-Big Ten honoree in each of the last two seasons, Czinano will be yet another big test for Reese inside.
McKenna Warnock, junior guard/forward, 6-foot-1, No. 14 — The status of Warnock — Iowa’s third-leading scorer at 11.7 points per game — remains a major question heading into Monday night. Warnock has missed each of Iowa’s last three games with a hand injury, per Iowa reporter Chad Leistikow. Warnock is another efficient shooter; she makes 53.8% of her shot attempts.
Caitlin Clark. The truth of the matter is, Iowa will have the best player on the floor each time it plays. This does not mean it is unbeatable — its six losses prove that — but it is a tangible advantage night in and night out. In two games against Maryland last season, Clark averaged 27.5 points and seven assists per game. Frese knows the competition she is up against, and it will be interesting to see how Maryland plans for her.
Offensive rebounding. Iowa averages 9.2 offensive rebounds per game, ranking last in the Big Ten. For comparison, Reese individually averages 5.5 offensive boards per game. Frese noted postgame against Wisconsin that she believes her team’s rebounding has improved. Maryland has outrebounded its opponents in each of its last four games.
Three things to watch
1. February Frenzy. There is no secret that February would be a big month for the Terps, and so far, so good. Maryland has won each of its three games in February, with four mammoth contests remaining. Five teams are separated by two games in the loss column at the top of the Big Ten standings. The loser of this game will likely have to shift their focus from winning the Big Ten to securing a top-four spot and a double-bye in March’s Big Ten Tournament. It is crucial for both conference seeding and overall résumé purposes that Maryland finishes strong, and the “February Frenzy” could make that a reality.
“Coach B started that trend, and I think she’s just had this amazing points that in February and in March, anything can happen,” graduate student guard Katie Benzan said. “So no matter what has happened in the past, like both teams walk out and they have to score more points than their opponents. And so each game we just have to take care of business and that’s what we’re gonna set out to do in these last four games.”
2. Can Maryland win the rebounding battle? As mentioned above, gaining second possessions is not a strong suit for the Hawkeyes. If Maryland can keep Iowa off the offensive glass, it could make it a fifth straight game with a positive rebounding margin. It is a blatant area that can be taken advantage of Monday night. With energy and effort, Maryland could use the glass as an edge to victory.
“Yeah, definitely something we’ve talked about,” said Frese on rebounding being an area of focus Monday night. “[An] area that we really have a strong emphasis for and want to continue rebounding as hard as we have in the stretch of games we’ve had.”
3. How will Maryland defend Caitlin Clark? This is probably the biggest question heading into Monday night’s matchup. It will likely take a collective team effort, double-teams and some hope to limit Clark. As Frese noted, she is a threat anytime she is within 47 feet of the basket. Clark is not just a scorer and could do damage in a variety of ways. With Owusu still day-to-day, the Terps will be short of bodies to throw at Clark. Maryland must be in 40-minute shape and stay out of foul trouble to limit Clark from torturing it Monday night.
“I think we’re all going to take a shot at her and just try to keep her out of her rhythms, change things up so that she can’t catch on fire,” Benzan said. “...Every possession, we just want to make her as uncomfortable as we can.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the most recent AP Top 25 Poll.