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No. 13 Maryland women’s basketball vs. No. 18 Ohio State preview (part two)

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Maryland seeks vengeance in the hunt for a Big Ten title.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics
UMTerps

No. 13 Maryland women’s basketball returns to the Xfinity Center looking to extend its win streak from seven to eight against the No. 18 Ohio State Buckeyes on Thursday night.

The Terps are coming off an emphatic road win at No. 22 Iowa, defeating the Hawkeyes, 81-69. Maryland grabbed an 18-17 lead with fewer than two minutes to play in the first quarter and never relinquished it from that point forward.

“When you look at our schedule, it’s prepared us now to be resilient,” said head coach Brenda Frese in her Iowa postgame presser. “We’ve had six teams in the top-10, this final stretch that we’re going through, and obviously you can see we’re peaking at the right time.”

Maryland displayed a tenacious defense against National Player of the Year candidate Caitlin Clark, holding her to 19 points, which is more than eight below her season average, on 7-of-25 shooting. The Terps’ defensive effort on Clark — spearheaded by freshman guard Shyanne Sellers and junior guard Diamond Miller — forced her into a whopping 10 turnovers.

Sophomore forward/guard Angel Reese was tremendous yet again, recording 25 points and 13 rebounds for her 14th double-double. Reese also made the game-clinching defensive play on Clark with about one minute left, knocking the ball off her leg for the Maryland takeaway.

Junior guard Ashley Owusu remained out against the Hawkeyes with an ankle injury, but Miller (20 points) and graduate student forward/guard Chloe Bibby (16 points) starred in her absence.

Thursday’s contest is set for an 8 p.m. tip and will air on Big Ten Network.

What happened last time

These two teams first met in Columbus, Ohio, on Jan. 20 in what was a classic shootout. The Terps ultimately fell to the then-unranked Buckeyes, 95-89, and fell to only 12-6 on the season.

Maryland’s 2021-22 season has not been short of adversity, and the first Ohio State contest was another chapter of it.

Just four days after the death of Frese’s father Bill, associate head coach Karen Blair was forced to step into the head coaching role against the Buckeyes. The Terps lost, but there was something to be made about the effort they left on the floor.

“As a team, something we’ve talked about this week is honoring Bill’s legacy,” said Blair in her Jan. 20 postgame presser. “And he stood for hard work and family. I think today, I’m happy with the performance by the team. I thought this team came out and played their hearts out, so I think we made Bill and Brenda proud.”

Five Terps scored in double figures in the first game, including Reese with 22 points and Bibby with 20 points, in their sixth-highest offensive output of the season. But, Maryland just couldn't stop Ohio State on the defensive end.

Ex-Terp Taylor Mikesell scored 33 points and unleashed fury on Maryland from beyond the arc with five three-pointers. Mikesell and junior guard Jacy Sheldon both played all 40 minutes and combined for 57 points. At the time, Mikesell became the eighth player to drain at least five triples against the Terps this season.

What’s happened since

Well, Maryland has not lost.

The Terps have rattled off seven wins in a row, with the closest victory coming by just five points. In its last seven games, Maryland has averaged exactly 77 points per game while posting an average margin of victory of 16.4 points per game.

Star junior guard Ashley Owusu sprained her ankle at Michigan State on Feb. 3. She remains day-to-day with an ankle sprain until further notice, and it is unclear when she will make her return to the lineup.

Since the first contest, Ohio State is also on a run of its own. The Buckeyes are 5-1 since Jan. 20; their only loss in that stretch came to Michigan.

Ohio State has beaten probable tournament teams in Iowa and Nebraska. However, two of those five wins included a combined 13-point sweep over Big Ten bottom-feeder Rutgers.

In its most recent outing on Monday, Ohio State stomped Illinois on the road, 86-67. Sheldon shined with 22 points, seven assists and four steals.

Both teams are part of a three-way tie with Michigan for second place in the Big Ten.

Three things to watch

1. Now or never. With just three games remaining on the regular-season schedule, Maryland and Ohio State both have their eyes on the ultimate prize: the Big Ten title. Indiana’s upset loss to Nebraska on Monday left the door wide open for Maryland to win the outright regular-season championship. The Ohio State game is the first of three rematches for the Terps; Michigan is Maryland’s penultimate game and Indiana is its last. If Maryland can win all three of those contests, the negative feelings surrounding those January defeats will fully dissipate. The domination of Iowa was a huge first step for Maryland, and it can continue its “February Frenzy” with another statement on Thursday.

“I think every game is important to us now,” said Bibby in Thursday’s postgame presser. “February Frenzy, as Coach B calls it, so it’s exciting. Obviously, we have some great competition in these last four stretches that we have to play, and I mean, this group is just so competitive. So I think regardless of who we’re playing, we just want to go out there, win and play Maryland basketball.”

2. Can Maryland limit Taylor Mikesell from a repeat performance? It could be seen that Mikesell’s monster performance against Maryland just meant a little bit more than the average game. Frankly, she destroyed her former squad, and it felt like every time she had the ball it would touch nylon. Maryland needs to ride the highs of its defensive clinic against Clark by containing both Mikesell and Sheldon from the perimeter.

3. Will we see another high-scoring affair between these two teams? If anything, the first game between Maryland and Ohio State was pure entertainment. With 184 total points or 4.6 points per minute, viewers undoubtedly got their money’s worth back in January. There is no sign of that trend changing heading into Thursday, as both Ohio State and Maryland possess top-three offenses in the Big Ten and top-seven offenses in the country (as of Tuesday). Expect Thursday night’s game to be a dandy with a lot of points scored.