Following an emotional 66-61 road victory against Michigan State, No. 7 Maryland women’s basketball (22-5, 13-3 Big Ten) is back home for one of its biggest games of the season — and one of the most anticipated bouts on the national scene — as it is set to take on No. 6 Iowa (22-5, 14-2) for the second time this season Tuesday.
With No. 2 Indiana clinching the Big Ten regular-season title after easily defeating Purdue Sunday, 83-60, the Hawkeyes and Terps find themselves in a furious race for the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. And of course, the immense national implications that will stem from Tuesday’s top-10 showdown are not to be overlooked.
Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. on Big Ten Network.
What happened last time
The significance of Tuesday’s game is eerily similar to these teams’ last matchup. It remains a top-10 matchup between two squads looking to take possession of second place in the conference.
In front of a raucous Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Feb. 2, Iowa stunned Maryland early. Behind an offensive explosion in the first half, it soared past the Terps, 96-82.
Junior guard Caitlin Clark and graduate forward Monika Czinano — arguably the nation’s best one-two punch — dismantled the Terps, going for a combined 70 points.
Clark, who is second in the nation in scoring, went nuclear. She went for 42 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. For good measure, she also finished 6-for-11 from three-point range.
Postgame, Maryland head coach Brenda Frese was full of praise for the All-American.
“[Clark’s] a pleasure to watch play unless you’re scouting her and going against her,” Frese said.
The Hawkeyes put up 56 points in the first half, by far the most Maryland had allowed in a half all season. Down 18 at the half, the Terps did what they could to claw back into the game, but Iowa’s firepower proved too much in the end.
Sophomore guard Shyanne Sellers had an open look midway through the third quarter to cut the deficit to just 10, but it rimmed out, allowing Clark to score three points of her own on the other end. Sellers finished with a career-high 26 points in the loss.
Maryland couldn’t find enough energy after that sequence, and despite a valiant effort — it actually outscored Iowa by four in the second half — the 18-point first-half deficit proved insurmountable in the end.
“We need to be a lot more disciplined,” Frese said ahead of Tuesday’s matchup. “Just trust in the system for 40 minutes.
What’s happened since
Since falling in Iowa City, the Terps are a perfect 4-0. Just three days after the defeat, they dismantled then-No. 10 Ohio State, 90-54. The 36-point margin of victory was the largest over a top-10 team in program history. Comfortable wins behind strong second halves against Northwestern and Illinois followed, before taking down Michigan State this past Saturday.
While much is deservingly discussed about Iowa’s stars, Maryland has one too, and Diamond Miller has been unstoppable in the Terps’ four-game win streak, scoring at least 29 points three times.
The Hawkeyes also have three wins since the Feb. 2 matchup, with an average margin of victory of 29.6 points during the stretch (Penn State, Rutgers, Wisconsin, Nebraska). They did suffer one loss, though, and it ultimately cost them a shot at the regular-season conference crown.
A hyped-up primetime showdown on Feb. 9 saw Iowa travel to Bloomington, Indiana, to take on the Hoosiers in a battle of the top two teams in the conference. The teams were tied at the half, but Indiana was just slightly better down the stretch, pulling out an 87-78 victory.
Maryland and Iowa have been two of the top teams in the country all year long, and it seems only fitting that the penultimate game of the regular season pits them against each other with huge postseason implications.
Three things to watch
1. Can Maryland flip the script on its home court? Close to 11,000 strong created a palpable buzz at Carver-Hawkeye Arena a little over two weeks ago, helping the Hawkeyes to a decisive victory. In three top-10 matchups this season at XFINITY Center, Maryland has averaged close to 11,000 fans per game. It’ll need all the support it can get Tuesday to pull out its sixth ranked victory of the season.
“It’s lining up perfectly when you talk about two of the best players right now in the country,” Frese said. “Must-see for those who want to come out in person as well as nationally on television.”
2. What’s the game plan for Clark and Czinano? Maryland had zero answer for Iowa’s two stars last time out. Provided Clark has been able to torch nearly every defense she’s seen this season, allowing a 42 point near-triple-double is something that cannot repeat itself if the Terps want any chance of winning Tuesday. And for Czinano, she took advantage of the Terps’ lack of interior size and dominated in the paint.
Stopping the two of them is a tall task, but Frese will need to minimize their impact on the game.
“There’s a lot of lessons that we learned from from the first time but obviously when you have the best player in the nation coming through in Clark, it’s a difficult matchup,” Frese added.
3. A brutal two games to end the season. Just three days after taking on Iowa, Maryland is back on the road to take on No. 16 Ohio State. While the game will not have an impact on Maryland’s conference tournament seed — it is already locked in at the two or three spot — it stands as another potential resume-changing game. After losing by 36 in College Park, the Buckeyes will be out for revenge in Columbus.
“This group has bought in through one of the toughest schedules that in my 21 years we’ve ever faced,” Frese said.
Note: This story has been updated to reflect changes in the latest AP poll, in which Maryland moved from No. 8 to No. 7 and Iowa from No. 7 to No. 6.