No. 10 Maryland women’s basketball returns home from a two-game road trip for a ranked clash with No. 13 Michigan at XFINITY Center on Thursday. The conference showdown is slated for tipoff at 6:30 p.m. on Big Ten Network.
Maryland (16-4, 7-2 Big Ten) is coming off a resounding 69-54 victory over Nebraska on Jan. 22. Maryland’s defense corrected its wrongs from their previous matchup with the Cornhuskers, limiting them to 30% shooting from the field and 18.5% from three.
Michigan hosted No. 6 Indiana on Monday, a day filled with intriguing matchups across the Big Ten. The Wolverines couldn’t close the gap in the fourth quarter, as they fell to star forward Mackenzie Holmes (25 points, 10 rebounds) and the Hoosiers, 92-83.
Maryland and Michigan met twice last season, with the latter winning both games by an aggregate score of 140-108. The Big Ten programs have superior coaching and talented athletes flooded across their rosters.
The Terps will be seeking their fourth ranked victory, while the Wolverines will look to bounce back with a road win.
Michigan Wolverines (16-4, 6-3 Big Ten)
Head coach Kim Barnes Arico, in her 11th season leading the Michigan Wolverines women’s basketball program, has been a beacon of consistency during her tenure.
Barnes Arico has recorded 10 20-win seasons, highlighted by a 25-7 record last season and a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. The Wolverines fought bravely, but ran out of gas in a 62-50 loss to Louisville in the program’s first-ever Elite Eight appearance.
She owns the program’s all-time record of 234-113 and a pair of trips to the Sweet 16. The coach has registered at least one victory in every postseason. Barnes Arico’s excellence led to her 500th career victory this season in a victory over Nebraska in December.
Despite losing All-American forward Naz Hillmon, the Wolverines reloaded and have found multiple ways to get victories this season. It is no secret Michigan is one of the upper-echelon teams in the Big Ten, but Barnes Arico’s guidance has made it a legitimate threat in March.
Players to know
Emily Kiser, graduate forward, 6-foot-3, No. 33 — Michigan’s offense starts and ends with Kiser. She is eighth in the Big Ten with 17.5 points per game and seven 20-point scoring performances. Kiser’s ability to knock down shots is evidenced by her 57.3% shot percentage, which ranks fourth in the conference. In a Nov. 27 victory over then-No. 21 Baylor, Kiser finished with 26 points and 13 rebounds on a 10-for-13 showing. The Terps would be wise to crowd her space and defend without fouling to prevent her from getting the free throw line; Kiser has recorded at least six foul shots in each of the past three games.
Laila Phelia, sophomore guard, 6-foot, No. 5 — Phelia has made positive strides in her sophomore campaign with 16.9 points per game, doubling her average from her freshman season. The 6-foot guard has scored in bunches recently, recording 44 points combined in her last two contests. She has answered the bell in the scoring department with 18.8 points per game over the past six games. Michigan’s No. 5 is lightning quick at changing speeds and getting into the paint. Phelia should see lots of Maryland guard Shyanne Sellers, as the latter is an outstanding perimeter defender with quick instincts.
Leigha Brown, 6-foot-1 fifth-year guard, No. 32 — The All-Big Ten honoree is coming off a season-high 31-point performance in Michigan’s loss to Indiana on Monday. Brown is third in the conference with 5.8 assists delivered per game. She has experience playing for other programs in the conference, as she transferred from Nebraska after her sophomore season. Brown’s knack for scoring is undeniable, averaging 16.6 points per game. Brown has established herself as a true scoring threat and Maryland will look to cool her off in a top-25 clash on Thursday.
Offense. Michigan is one of the best offensive teams in the Big Ten with a third-ranked 48.1% field goal percentage. The Wolverines also lead the conference with a 78.6% clip from the charity stripe. Three members of Michigan’s roster (Kiser, Phelia and Brown) average at least 16 points per game and have been lighting up scoreboards all season. The Wolverines’ offense is their calling card and has been instrumental in their success this season.
Rebounding. The Wolverines have secured several victories this season, but they are not without any weaknesses. Michigan is 12th in the Big Ten with 35.9 rebounds per game. With the schedule increasing in importance, the Wolverines will look to improve their performance on the glass to earn critical victories down the stretch.
Three things to watch
1. Can Maryland defeat Michigan at home for the first time in more than three years? Maryland is one of the best teams in the Big Ten and it has been confirming that assessment the entire season. With a No. 10 national ranking, it has three ranked victories and an impressive 8-1 record on the road. Maryland will return to College Park this week, where it is 21-2 at XFINITY Center over the past two and a half seasons. The Terps have struggled to defeat Michigan at home. In fact, Maryland will be seeking its first home victory over Michigan since Dec. 28, 2019. The Terps are riding a three-game winning streak and will look to protect their home court on Thursday in front of an expected raucous crowd.
2. Will the Terps’ defense keep the Wolverines off the free throw line? The Big Ten basketball schedule is slowly pivoting to marquee games between some of the conference’s best. It will be paramount for Maryland to defend aggressively without fouling, as Michigan leads the conference with a 78.6% free throw percentage. There will be moments this season where the victor will be determined by who performs the best at the free throw line. Many would surmise that the Terps have been practicing jumping vertically without swiping down to elicit a foul.
3. What will a victory do for both teams? Maryland has a 7-2 record in conference play, which ranks fourth in the Big Ten. A victory would keep the Terps in striking distance of leaping into the top 3. Not to mention, they have a Feb. 2 road date with star Caitlin Clark and No. 10 Iowa. Thursday night’s game was already projected to be a compelling matchup, but the intensity may increase with postseason positioning at stake.