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No. 15 Maryland women’s basketball vs. Wisconsin preview

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The Terps host the Badgers before ending the regular season against four ranked opponents.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Since falling to the Buckeyes on Jan. 20, No. 15 Maryland women’s basketball has pulled off five straight wins, beating teams by an average of 15 points per game. With wins against Northwestern, Rutgers, Penn State, Michigan State and Nebraska, the Terps improved to 9-3 in conference play.

After the Wisconsin match, Maryland heads west for a battle with No. 25 Iowa and Caitlin Clark, the top scorer in the nation. It will be the first and only regular-season meeting between the Terps and Hawkeyes this year. Maryland then finishes the campaign with No. 21 Ohio State (Feb. 17, home), No. 4 Michigan (Feb. 20, away) and No. 7 Indiana (Feb. 25, home).

The Terps are coming off of a statement win at home Sunday afternoon where they dominated from start to finish and never trailed against a quality Nebraska team. All the more impressive from Sunday’s victory was that Maryland played without its floor general, Ashley Owusu, who was out with an ankle injury. Still, the Terps put six players in double figures on the afternoon.

“I think our defense really picked [up against Nebreaska],” head coach Brenda Frese said ahead of the Wisconsin game. “We upped our intensity and our energy, which has led to our offense. Being unselfish, valuing the basketball on the offensive end, just our o-to-d has really improved.”

The contest versus Wisconsin is set for Wednesday with a 6 p.m. tipoff at Xfinity Center and will air on the Big Ten Network.

Wisconsin Badgers (6-16, 3- 9 Big Ten)

2020-21 record: 5-19 (2-18 Big Ten)

Head coach Marisa Moseley is in her first season in charge of Wisconsin. Since taking over as the program’s eighth head coach, Moseley has a 6-16 record. She arrived in Madison following three successful seasons at her alma mater, Boston University. While with the Terriers, Moseley led the program to a 45-29 overall record. She also was named the Patriot League Coach of the Year.

It has been a difficult first season in the Big Ten, but Moseley’s team has enjoyed wins over Nebraska, Illinois and Penn State.

“Wisconsin has a rich and storied tradition of success in all its sports, and I am confident that our women’s basketball program will be joining those ranks in the future,” Moseley said after being appointed head coach according to a release.

Players to know

Julie Pospisilova, junior guard, 6-foot, No. 5 — Leading her team with 14.2 points per game, Pospisilova is 14th in the division in scoring. The junior from Prague has improved each season in Madison. She averaged 5.1 as a freshman and 8.9 last year. She’s also second on the team in rebounds and assists and third on the team in steals and blocks.

Sydney Hilliard, junior guard, 5-foot-11, No. 30 — Hilliard is just behind Pospisilova in points (12.8) in team scoring and in the conference; she’s 15th-best. Her 55% shooting from the field and 4.7 boards per match are best on the team. A 2020-21 unanimous All-Big Ten honorable mention, Hilliard also puts up over two assists per outing.

Katie Nelson, graduate guard, 5-foot-8, No. 2 — Following three standout seasons at Boston University, Nelson linked up with Moseley in Wisconsin. While in the Northeast, Nelson was named to the 2018 Patriot League All-Rookie Team, 2019 All-Patriot League Third Team, 2020 All-Patriot League Second Team and 2021 All-Patriot League First Team. This season, Nelson leads the Badgers in assists (3.4), steals (1.6) and 3-point shooting, knocking down 36.4% of her 77 attempts.

Strength

Minutes to go around and time to build. There are plenty of minutes to go around for the younger members of this Badgers team. Nine players average more than 10 minutes per game, four average between 15 and 30 and three — Nelson, Pospisilova and Hilliard — play over 30 a night. Other than Nelson, every player on Wisconsin’s active roster is a junior or younger, meaning that most of the team should return next season, which will give the group continuity and chemistry.

“Obviously a new staff with Marisa Moseley, who’s done a really good job putting their system together,” Frese said. “They had a really good win against Illinois. They’re a first-year team that’s building that culture and competing hard, which is what you’ve got to be able to do in that first year.”

Weakness

Offense. Wisconsin ranks at the bottom of the Big Ten in most statistical categories. It is second from the bottom in points scored (57.9) and three-point field-goal percentage (30%). The Badgers also are dead last in field-goal percentage (tied with Northwestern at 39.4%), rebounding (30.1) and blocked shots (2.64). The team’s three conference wins have come by an average of eight points, and the teams they defeated are the two teams below and the team directly above them in the standings.

Three things to watch

1. Can Maryland jump out to another strong start? First-quarter scoring has proved to be a bugaboo for the Terps at times this season, but against Nebraska, Maryland jumped out to a 26-11 lead after the first quarter and a 43-20 advantage at the half. The third quarter wasn’t the cleanest, but the No. 15 team in the nation still won by a significant margin. If the home team can start as it did versus the Cornhuskers, winning No. 6 in a row will be on its way.

“It’s been something we’ve stressed a lot, to punch first,” Frese said. “You saw the spiral that we were able to impact with Nebraska. We want to come out from the tip ready to go, have that focus, that energy and intensity. I love where we were at against Nebraska.”

2. What type of momentum can the Terps build heading into the home stretch? Much has been made of the significance of Maryland’s win streak, and rightfully so. Adversity has become second nature for this team, which was ranked as high a second in the top-25 poll. The Terps have taken care of business when facing weaker sides, but in games against ranked opponents this season, Maryland is 1-5 and hasn't won such a match since it defeated No. 10 Baylor on Nov. 21. A six-game win streak would put the Terps in fine standing heading into the end of February.

“We had a great game on Sunday, but we’re focusing on Wednesday and just doing what we do best,” sophomore forward/guard Angel Reese said. “I think our defense has gotten much better, and I think we’re in a pretty good spot right now.”

3. Will it be another masterclass come Wednesday? Maryland held a Nebraska team averaging 79.4 points per game to just 65 Sunday afternoon and forced 19 turnovers. The Cornhuskers struggled offensively, making just 38% of their attempts from the field and 33% from three. The Terps’ full-court press stifled Nebraska’s offense and contributed to the blowout victory. It’s no secret Maryland can fill the scoresheet — it had six players reach double-digit figures on Sunday — but defense is the final piece of the championship puzzle.