No. 13 Maryland women’s basketball returns home for a Saturday afternoon Big Ten showdown with Michigan State. Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. at the XFINITY Center in College Park. The conference tilt can be streamed on Big Ten Plus.
The Terps (12-3) are on a five-game winning streak following a 78-67 victory over Rutgers on Jan. 2. Senior guard Abby Meyers led the way with 22 points, four rebounds and four 3-pointers. Head coach Brenda Frese’s squad has made positive strides in building continuity and late-game chemistry over the past month.
Michigan State (10-5) is coming off a 71-64 triumph over Northwestern, led by an electric 21-point performance by sophomore guard Matilda Ekh. The Spartans — winners of their last four — are playing with momentum of their own after upsetting Indiana 83-78 on Dec. 29.
Maryland owns a 17-2 series lead over Michigan State, winning the past five matchups. Last season, Maryland squeaked out a narrow 67-62 victory at the Breslin Center.
The Terps will look for their fourth consecutive conference victory, while the Spartans hope to add another ranked win to its impressive early-season resume.
Michigan State Spartans (10-5, 2-2 Big Ten)
2021-22 record: 15-15 (8-9 Big Ten)
Michigan State is led by head coach Suzy Merchant, who’s in her 16th season overseeing the women’s basketball program.
Under Merchant’s leadership, Michigan State has finished within the top three in the conference in eight of the past 15 seasons. She has a 321-177 record during her lengthy tenure in East Lansing. Merchant’s 154-104 conference record ranks in the top 12 in Big Ten history in terms of winning percentage.
Prior to arriving at Michigan Stage in 2007, Merchant enjoyed successful seasons leading Eastern Michigan and Saginaw Valley State. She guided Eastern Michigan to three 20-win seasons and a pair of Mid-American Conference West Division titles.
Merchant and the Spartans lost star point guard Nia Clouden in the offseason, as she was drafted 12th by the Connecticut Sun in the 2022 WNBA Draft. With an upset victory over then-No. 4 Indiana already on the resume, the Spartans have proven they can compete amongst the elite teams without her, so it will be worth monitoring the outcome of their season.
Merchant will look to lead the Spartans back to the NCAA Tournament after failing to qualify during the 2021-22 season.
Players to know
Kamaria McDaniel, graduate guard, 5-foot-10, No. 5 — McDaniel, a Michigan native, leads the team with 14.7 points per game. McDaniel has scored in double figures 11 times with four games of 20 points or more, scoring 24 points and delivering three assists against Indiana. The graduate guard is ultra-aggressive when attacking the rim and defensive rotations will be key in limiting her ability to score in bunches.
Matilda Ekh, sophomore guard/forward, 6-foot, No. 11 — Ekh has been rapidly improving her scoring output and her last performance confirmed that. The athletic guard recorded 21 points and five 3-pointers in Michigan State’s 71-64 victory over Northwestern. Ekh is fifth in the Big Ten with a 44.3% mark from 3-point range while making at least two 3-pointers in 11 games. Michigan State’s No. 11 is effective at using high screen and rolls to keep defenders on their heels.
Isaline Alexander, sophomore forward, 6-foot-3, No. 12 — Alexander has started six out of 15 games while leading the team in total rebounds (81). She currently ranks fifth in the conference with 40 offensive rebounds and remains a critical piece of the Spartans’ controlling of the glass. The 6-foot-3 forward recorded 10 points and 10 rebounds against Detroit Mercy, marking Alexander’s first double-double of the season. For Maryland to neutralize Alexander’s impact on the glass, it will be paramount to box her out to close defensive possessions.
Rebounding. Michigan State is third in the Big Ten with 42 rebounds per game. The Spartans feature one of the tallest teams in the conference with seven athletes of 6-foot-1 or taller. It’s well documented that Maryland lacks the size it’s had in previous seasons, so the Spartans could impact the game by controlling the glass. With Michigan State leading the conference with 15.1 offensive rebounds per game, it will be pivotal for the Terps to close defensive possessions with a board.
Free throws. The Spartans’ aggressiveness produces 14.6 free throws per game. However, they are dead last in the conference in free-throw percentage, shooting 63.5% from the charity stripe. Michigan State has not recorded a 70% mark from the free-throw line since Nov. 17. Games can be won or lost at the free-throw line, so converting shots is pivotal to earning narrow victories in Big Ten play.
Three things to watch
1. Can Maryland cool off a streaking Michigan State team? While navigating the Big Ten landscape, it is pressing to find a team as hot as the Michigan State Spartans. The Spartans are on a four-game winning streak, and Merchant’s squad has averaged 85.8 points per game over that stretch.
The Terps’ defense — led by Shyanne Sellers — will look to control the pace with sprinkles of their 1-2-2 full-court press and aggressive man-to-man defense. Maryland is at its best when it can turn defense into favorable numbers in transition. Sellers and the Terps will look to halt Michigan State’s recent streak with a strong defensive performance on Saturday.
2. Will the Terps’ reserves continue to make an impact? Maryland has a starting five among the best in the conference, but it’s a pair of reserves that have made their impact felt in several games this season. Senior guard Brinae Alexander has been a spark plug off the bench, as she’s scored in double figures six times through 15 games. The Vanderbilt transfer leads the Terps by shooting 46.8% from behind the arc this season. Alexander uses her wealth of experience to consistently find open shots and defend the perimeter with conviction.
Another one of the bright spots over the past two games has been the play of guard Lavender Briggs. The Utah native has put together a pair of double-digit scoring outings while going 4-for-6 from three during that stretch. Briggs was a volume scorer at Florida and her scoring ability adds a different dimension to the Terps. She is a willing rebounder, evidenced by her eight boards in Maryland’s victory over Rutgers on Jan. 2. If Briggs and Alexander can continue to contribute off the bench, Maryland could be one of the most dangerous teams in the Big Ten.
3. How can Diamond Miller put her imprint on the game? Maryland senior guard Diamond Miller is known for her pro-ready skills and ability to get buckets in bunches. Miller ranks fifth in the conference with 18.3 points per game and has consistently shown why she is one of the best players in the nation. But Miller has recently affected the game outside of scoring by playing active defense and finding open teammates for scoring opportunities. In the Terps’ recent triumph over Rutgers, the star guard added seven rebounds, four steals and two blocks to her 15-point showing. Frese credits Miller for playing within the offense and knowing when to make certain plays. If Miller can continue impacting games outside of scoring, it only bodes well for Maryland as the season continues.