No. 9 Maryland women’s basketball bounced back from its loss to Indiana with a quality 80-56 home victory against Rutgers on Saturday. It was the first time the Terps closed out a Big Ten series this year and the second game came 13 days after the first meeting.
“It is ironic with the scheduling how we’re already playing a team twice before we haven’t played others at all,” head coach Brenda Frese said.
Channeling defense into offense.
Frese’s favorite stat to mention is her team's assist-to-turnover ratio, but another one worth mentioning is points generated off turnovers. Before the 5:00 mark of the first quarter, Maryland’s staunch defense forced Rutgers into six turnovers. The first six resulted in seven Terrapin points. By quarter’s end, the Scarlet Knights committed 10 turnovers and Maryland had eight steals. It was evident the Terps’ good defense kept them alive in the early going.
They also did a good job of limiting freshman guard Kaylene Smikle, who had 29 points in the last meeting. She was 1-for-8 with 2:30 left in the first half. Even though she scored a bit more in the second half, Maryland still held a sizable lead and forced Rutgers into making multiple defensive mistakes. The Scarlet Knights continued the worrisome trend of committing turnovers. By the end of the game, 19 of Maryland’s points had come off Rutgers turnovers.
Maryland deployed a three-quarter court press early in the first quarter and it was effective then and throughout the game.
“We really came in with the mentality … be aggressive, high hands and we were actually working on in practice to try and steal the ball without fouling,” graduate guard Abby Meyers said. “I think that just translated really well and it definitely helped us find momentum in that first quarter leading into the second, third and fourth.”
Maryland knows how to bounce back.
Frese said after Maryland’s loss to Indiana that it is uncharacteristic for so many of its sharpshooters to have an off night in the same game. She was encouraged this week after her team’s practice on Friday and Maryland’s offense looked much more fluid Sunday, especially during the second quarter when it went on a 12-0 run to go up 37-18.
Senior guard Diamond Miller said she was “really mad” at herself after the Indiana game and that mentality fueled her to produce a much more Miller-like game Saturday where she did a little bit of everything. Her first-half stat line read 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting, five rebounds, three assists, five steals and a block.
Miller did not record another steal in the game, but her five steals rank among the top individual defensive performances in the Big Ten this season. Frese was happy to see Miller bounce back after being so critical of her game a few days prior.
“She set the tone for us ... I thought she just played one of her most complete games on both ends of the floor,” Frese said.
Maryland showed signs of depth.
Some of the younger Terps got to see playing time Sunday since Maryland spent much of the game holding a double-digit lead. While freshman guard Gia Cooke and freshman forward Mila Reynolds did not contribute a ton on the stat sheet, getting them in-game experience during conference play is valuable to their development. Freshman guard Bri McDaniel also made an appearance with 3:15 left in the game.
Senior guard Lavender Briggs, who has had an up-and-down year, looked a bit more confident in her shot attempts off the bench. Frese said Briggs’ consistency, along with graduate guard Brinae Alexander, who eclipsed the 1,000-point mark for her collegiate career with a 3-pointer in the third quarter, has been huge for this team. But they need the freshmen to get going.
She’s looking for consistent practices from the freshmen to build trust so that they don’t always have to use a seven-player rotation.
Alexander has been the brightest spot off the bench for Maryland. She was a bright spot in the loss to Indiana scoring 15. She had the dagger in the fourth quarter, hitting a 3-pointer that put Maryland up 21 with 3:24 left, but nothing compared to crossing 1,000.
“A thousand points means a lot,” Alexander said. “Credit to my teammates for finding me and getting me open looks but it means a lot to be in my fifth year in college so I just feel great.”
Maryland has a stretch of three games in seven days, including two on the road — against Wisconsin on Jan. 19 and the series finale against Nebraska on Jan. 22.