No. 11 Maryland women’s basketball enters the Big Ten tournament with a seed lower than No. 2 for the first time since entering the conference. Regardless, the fourth-seeded Terps come to Indianapolis with a double-bye and the same goal on their mind: winning the title.
“We’re obviously excited to be here in Indy,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “...We love this time of year, the best time of year. When you talk about in March, love where this team is at.”
On Thursday afternoon, Maryland learned that it would play No. 5 seed Indiana in a rematch on Friday.
The Terps dealt with adversity all season long, whether it be injuries, illness or personal matters. This year marks only the second time in eight seasons that Maryland has not won at least a share of the Big Ten regular season title. But, a strong 6-1 February allowed Maryland to finish in the top four of the conference. The consecutive byes give Maryland the opportunity to only have to win three games to secure its third straight conference tournament championship.
“It’s tough, especially in the Big Ten, when the competition is so good across the conference,” graduate student guard Katie Benzan said. “But it’s definitely gonna be a battle for 40 minutes, especially splitting with Indiana...And we know that we just got to come out, play Maryland basketball, play together, and everything will hopefully fall our way.”
Let’s dive into Maryland’s quarterfinal matchup.
Friday, March 3, approx. 2 p.m. ET, Gainbridge Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
TV: Big Ten Network (BTN)
How did they get here?
No. 4-seed Maryland Terrapins (21-7, 13-4 Big Ten)
Maryland came into this season with massive expectations. The Terps checked in at No. 4 in the preseason AP Poll and were picked to win the Big Ten. The 2021-22 season would be played around the mantra “Complete the Mission,” and the hashtag “#TheMI22ION” has been used on Maryland’s social media accounts all season long.
The Terps were left with a sour taste in their mouths after being upset by Texas in last season’s Sweet 16, and this year’s mission was to complete the job and win the national title. While there have been some bumps in its road to the postseason, Maryland is still on a solid path to reach their goal.
Running through the early part of its non-conference schedule, which included a massive win over then-No. 6 Baylor, Maryland started 6-0 and rose to No. 2 in the national rankings. However, Maryland would soon hit hardship and come back down to Earth. Benzan and junior guard/forward Faith Masonius would miss an extended amount of time due to illness, while star junior guard Diamond Miller only played 15 minutes in the team’s first 12 games due to a knee injury.
A shorthanded Terps squad was not competitive in the Bahamas against then-No. 5 NC State and then-No. 7 Stanford, but the losses were understood. If one thing was clear, though, it was that Frese now had a superstar big in sophomore forward/guard Angel Reese, who averaged 17.6 points and 10.7 rebounds per game during the regular season.
Maryland would get hot again entering the heart of conference play in January, but it would lose one of its key bench players in Masonius, who tore her ACL at Indiana on Jan. 2.
Following back-to-back mid-January losses to Michigan and Ohio State respectively, the Terps stood at 12-6; that was the program’s worst 18-game start since the 2003-04 season.
Maryland really turned its season around after the two straight losses, winning eight straight games and emerging back onto the national radar. Junior guard Ashley Owusu missed five of the Terps’ last six games due to either a sprained ankle — which is no longer an issue — or illness.
“Having the end of the schedule that we had, we feel like really prepared us for this time now in Indy,” Frese added. “...But obviously understand, it’s a new season. You win, you advance. You lose, you go home.”
A win against Indiana on Feb. 25 clinched the double-bye for Maryland, and six of its players — highlighted by Reese’s First Team All-Big Ten recognition — were honored by the conference on Monday.
Despite all the ups and downs, Maryland is in great position for March success. The Terps were projected as a No. 3 seed in the Bridgeport region in the latest bracket reveal from the selection committee.
No. 5-seed Indiana Hoosiers
After defeating Michigan State on Feb. 12, Indiana stood at 18-3 overall and 10-1 in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers had a total grip on the Big Ten with only five games left on their schedule, but February did not treat Indiana kindly.
Indiana fell by 17 at Nebraska on Feb. 14, but it rebounded with a double-digit home win against Northwestern on Feb. 17.
However, Indiana ended the regular season on a three-game losing streak. The Hoosiers played Iowa two times in three days, once in Bloomington and once in Iowa City. Indiana lost by five in its Feb. 19 home matchup against the Hawkeyes and lost by six two days later on the road.
To end its regular season, Indiana lost at Maryland, 67-64. The loss pushed the Hoosiers out of the conference’s top four and into a Thursday game at the Big Ten tournament.
In that game, Indiana put away the Scarlet Knights, 66-54. Graduate student guard Ali Patberg led the Hoosiers with 19 points.
What happened last time?
Maryland and Indiana have already met twice this season.
In the first meeting between the teams on Jan. 2, Indiana defeated the Terps, 70-63 in overtime. Maryland, then ranked No. 6 in the country, made a massive comeback to force the extra period in Bloomington. Trailing 60-51 with just more than three minutes to play, the Terps ended regulation on a 10-1 run.
Owusu struggled back in January — she was only 4-of-13 from the field — but scored four points in the final minute to help propel the Terps. Ultimately, Maryland could only muster two points in the five overtime minutes and fell short at Assembly Hall. Reese was phenomenal with 22 points and 12 rebounds.
Nearly eight weeks later in both teams’ regular season finale, Maryland outlasted the Hoosiers, 67-64, on Feb. 25.
Reese was outstanding yet again against the Hoosiers, leading Maryland with 20 points and 16 rebounds. Benzan played the hero, though, playing all 40 minutes and sinking a floater with 11.8 seconds left to ice the game.
Owusu missed the February game with an illness, while sophomore guard Taisiya Kozlova was with her family in Russia. Kozlova has since returned to the team.
Three things to watch
1. Who will win the rubber match between these heavyweight opponents? In both games the teams have played this season, Maryland and Indiana have given each other all that the other can handle. Each team defended its home floor, but Friday’s game has even higher stakes and will be significant come Selection Sunday. Whichever side secures a neutral-site win over the other will likely have the upper hand when the committee runs through its seeding process.
“It’s an easy scout in the sense of that both teams know each other extremely well,” Frese said. “Obviously just having played them, our team understands how talented Indiana is...but we also understand that game came down to a possession, and then they beat us at their place. So it’s going to require a 40-minute effort.”
2. How will Ashley Owusu look? Though February was kind to the Terps, the same cannot be said for Owusu. Owusu suffered her ankle injury in the first quarter of Feb. 3’s game at Michigan State. She would go on to miss the next four games and did not look like herself in her Feb. 20 return against Michigan. She would not have the chance to continue to get comfortable against Indiana due to illness. It will be fascinating to see how close Owusu is to getting back to herself in Maryland’s postseason opener.
“I can’t say enough about her effort to try to get herself in the best possible shape,” Frese said. “I mean she’s just missed a lot of time. Her conditioning level is nowhere near where it once was, so we’re just trying to be patient with that. It’s at a different level that we’re playing at, so just trying to really kind of see where she’s at, you can tell her legs aren’t quite there yet.”
3. How will Shyanne Sellers look in her first postseason? The Terps’ emerging freshman guard had a fantastic season, garnering Big Ten Sixth Player of the Year honors in just her rookie campaign. She has looked well beyond her years at times, locking up players on defense such as Iowa’s Caitlin Clark. With plenty of meaningful games ahead for Sellers, she will now have her first chance to etch her name in the school’s postseason history book.