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No. 13 Maryland women’s basketball falls to No. 9 Michigan, 71-59

The Terps allowed Michigan star Naz Hillmon to score 29 points.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

In the thick of a Big Ten regular season championship race, No. 13 Maryland women’s basketball and the No. 9 Michigan Wolverines were trading blows Sunday with a potential title on the line.

Trailing by 10 with a little more than one minute to play, graduate student guard Katie Benzan nailed her third three to cut it to 63-56. From there, the fouling game commenced. Senior guard Danielle Rauch only made one of two free throws to keep Maryland afloat.

Out of the timeout, graduate student forward/guard Chloe Bibby sunk a three from the corner to make it only a 64-59 game with 51 seconds left. Junior guard Maddie Nolan was subsequently fouled, but she only hit one free throw as well.

Junior guard Ashley Owusu had a chance to make it a four-point game, but she blew a layup that she normally makes with ease. Michigan would capitalize at the free-throw line and Maryland had no magic left.

“She’s playing through some pain, doesn't quite have the lift,” said Maryland head coach Brenda Frese of Owusu. “It was an uncharacteristic layup that she missed there late game that normally a healthy Ashley is going to make.”

It was too little, too late for Maryland, which just could not make the big play it needed in a 71-59 defeat on the road.

All-American senior forward Naz Hillmon had her fingerprints all over the game with 29 points, 11 rebounds and three assists. She led Michigan to the sweep over the Terps and put her team in prime position to win at least a share of the conference championship.

“Just a really hard fought game by both teams,” Frese said. “Really good Michigan team. Obviously, I thought it was an extremely physical game by both teams.”

Sunday’s game had massive stakes, to say the minimum. Riding an eight-game win streak, the Terps sat alone atop of the Big Ten. Maryland controlled its own destiny to win the outright regular-season title, but Michigan could overtake the top spot with a win.

The Terps received a huge lift pregame with the return of Owusu. Owusu, who came off the bench in the first quarter, missed the previous four games and was considered day-to-day after spraining her ankle against Michigan State on Feb. 3.

Maryland sought revenge on the Wolverines, having lost to then-No. 11 Michigan at home in the first meeting between the two teams on Jan. 16. Back in January, The Terps held Hillmon — one of the nation’s best players — to only nine points, but Nolan exploded for seven threes.

On Sunday, it took over two minutes for the game’s first points to be scored, as Hillmon powered through Bibby for a tough layup.

Maryland did not get its first bucket until more than three minutes into the game, but redshirt junior forward Mimi Collins provided the jolt it needed off the bench. Collins had a dynamic first quarter, finishing with four points on 2-of-2 shooting, two rebounds, one assist and one steal.

However, it was the game’s slow start that set the stage for a low-scoring affair. Through 10 minutes, Maryland held a 13-11 lead.

The offensive struggle continued into the second quarter, as both teams struggled to score.

Michigan did not shoot horribly in the second period — it went 6-of-13 from the field — but it turned the ball over nine times for 15 total first-half turnovers. On the other hand, the Terps only shot 2-of-12 on second-quarter shots and only made one of their last eight field-goal attempts.

Like Maryland did in the first, Michigan won the second quarter, 13-11, to even the game at 24 apiece at halftime. Hillmon, who had two fouls already, led all scorers with 14 points. Bibby was Maryland’s leading scorer with eight points.

The third quarter started with a bang for Maryland, which drilled two three-pointers to open the second half. Freshman guard Shyanne Sellers and Benzan each hit triples to put Maryland in front by six with about seven minutes to play in the third quarter.

But, the Wolverines answered with a 9-2 run, grabbing a 33-32 lead by the third-quarter media timeout. Hillmon put her full bag of tricks on display, including a dish to a sophomore guard/forward Elise Stuck layup that gave Michigan its first lead since the first quarter.

Soon after, Bibby put in a layup plus the foul, she missed the free throw, but she gave Maryland a 36-35 lead with about four minutes to play in the third quarter. The bucket gave Bibby 10 points; the Terps fell to 15-3 in games where she scores in double figures.

Maryland went over four minutes without a field goal in the third quarter’s final minutes, but Sellers provided a much-needed boost with a clutch floater of Nolan with two seconds remaining.

Michigan, led by Hillmon’s 19 points through three quarters, now had a 45-41 grip on the game with just 10 minutes to play.

“Naz is a great player, and I thought we did the best as we can trying to front her at times,” Bibby said. “We let her get easy buckets and those easy rebounds, so those are the things we have to clean up.”

To start the fourth quarter, the Terps quickly cut the deficit to two with a layup by Miller. On the ensuing possession, though, Benzan would miss a wide-open three-pointer, and a Hillmon and-one on the other end resulted in a six-point swing.

Rauch hit a three-pointer with fewer than eight minutes remaining to make it a 51-43 ballgame, forcing a timeout by Frese. Sellers turned the ball over out of the timeout, and a Phelia layup brought Michigan’s lead to 10. Another layup by Nolan made it a 10-0 Michigan run, and the Terps found themselves in serious danger, down 55-43 with just six and a half minutes to play.

Maryland was now the team chipping away, down 55-47 at the game’s final media timeout.

Both teams traded four points each, and Michigan led 59-51 with three minutes to go.

Reese, who had been dealing with foul trouble all night, was disqualified with her fifth foul just seconds later. Maryland’s leading scorer and rebounder was troubled all night long, finishing with only six points and five rebounds.

The Terps’ late push came up short, and its Big Ten title hopes slipped away.

“It was just one of those days,” Sellers said. “I feel like we were getting open looks and we were getting open shots, they just weren’t falling.”

Maryland was dominated on the boards, 45-27, a major reason why it lost. In two matchups this season, the Wolverines outrebounded the Terps, 83-50.

Three things to know

1. Not a lot of points early set the tone. Maryland loves playing at a fast pace — showcased by its 80.3 points per game — but Michigan made the game scrappy, much like we saw in the Jan. 16 meeting. The Terps, though, were able to match Michigan’s style by tightening up on the defensive end. Maryland forced plenty of Michigan turnovers and made buckets difficult to come by. The low-scoring trend is not something that it is normally accustomed to and it ultimately did not play out in Maryland’s favor.

“I thought honestly, our defense, I thought we were pretty good,” Bibby said. “I was really happy with how we’ve moved the needle in these past three games and even this game...It was a different style of play, and I thought we matched up to that. We forced them into 22 turnovers, we just didn’t capitalize on those turnovers.”

2. Ashley Owusu silenced in her return. Maryland’s win streak has been even more impressive because half of the victories during the stretch came without Owusu. She showed flashes at times Sunday but did not look like herself. Owusu finished with only two points on 0-of-3 shooting from the field and 2-of-6 shooting from the free-throw line.

3. Maryland’s eight-game win streak has been snapped. With its impressive win streak, Maryland shot its way up the Big Ten standings. It put itself in a prime position to win the conference by winning its last two games against Iowa and Ohio State, respectively, but its next task would not be easy. Michigan gave Maryland fits the first time around, and that did not change on Sunday. Maryland’s recent success put it in a much better spot for a top-16 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but a Big Ten regular-season title will be difficult to obtain with only one game remaining.

“Yeah, I think this kind of play, the style of play is what you face in March,” said Frese on if the loss could help in the long run. “So anytime you can play, match teams that are really physical and really aggressive, it just prepares you for what lies ahead. So we’ve just got to learn from it, be able to find when shots aren’t falling, be able to find other ways to be able to score.”