Coming into Thursday night’s top-10 showdown, the game between No. 8 Maryland women’s basketball and No. 6 Iowa had garnered the buzz of a highly competitive game between two Big Ten elite programs.
Iowa star guard Caitlin Clark delivered another captivating performance with 42 points, seven rebounds and eight assists to hand Maryland a 96-82 loss in front of a raucous crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.
Maryland sophomore guard Shyanne Sellers and senior guard Diamond Miller combined for 53 points and 12 rebounds, but were unable to match the offensive electricity of an explosive Iowa team.
The Terps (18-5) dropped their conference record to 9-3 and will look to bounce back quickly with a Sunday afternoon matchup with No. 10 Ohio State at XFINITY Center.
Let’s get into three takeaways from Thursday’s game.
Maryland’s slow start spelled doom on the road.
Maryland’s impressive road record, now 9-2, includes marquee victories over then-No. 17 Baylor and then-No. 7 Notre Dame. The Terps’ trip to the Midwest was unlike the rest, as they faced a team riding an impressive six-game winning streak.
Iowa’s home arena frequently brings in a large crowd, and almost any made bucket sends it into a frenzy. Because of this, it was paramount for the Terps to get a good start on the road, as they are still building chemistry.
Maryland got out to a sluggish start, recording a troubling 7-for-24 showing from the field and missing all four of its three-point attempts.
“Uncharacteristic start in the first quarter, which I thought obviously impacted the results of the game, and going 1-for-9 in that first quarter is really unlike us,” Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said.
Heading into halftime, Maryland trailed 56-38 and had stretches of stagnant offensive movement.
The Terps started the second half strong, as they closed their deficit to 62-52 midway through the third quarter. Maryland outscored Iowa 22-18 in the period and began to build a little momentum.
Sellers scored a career-high 26 points and was effective at using her size advantage over 5-foot-7 guard Molly Davis.
Maryland won the second half scoring battle 42-40, but it’s a tall task to defeat a top team on the road following a slow start.
“You saw us trying to switch different things defensively and trying to get into some kind of rhythm. In transition, they crushed us in every area there,” Frese said. “I’m proud of the second half, we won the second half. You can’t spot a team like Iowa the amount of points that we allowed in the first half.”
The Terps’ start made them unable to find equal footing for the remainder of the game.
Caitlin Clark created a myriad of problems for the Terps’ defense.
Whenever Iowa is on the schedule, attention immediately shifts to the defensive game plan to deal with Clark. The All-Big Ten guard is a nightmare to defend, as she’s a three-level scorer with dynamic playmaking ability.
Clark dazzled fans with a performance for the ages. She scored 42 points, seven rebounds, and eight assists in a nationally-televised conference game.
“I think the difference for her this year is [that] she’s just a lot stronger. She’s a lot more durable. She’s a once-in-a-lifetime type of player, a pleasure to watch play unless you’re scouting and going against her. She can do so many things and had a huge night. She’s a special player,” Frese said.
Clark was aggressive from the opening tip, using a nasty crossover to drill a 30-foot 3-pointer for Iowa’s first points of the evening.
It wasn’t just Clark’s scoring ability that took center stage, as her passing ability was on full display throughout the contest. With fewer than three minutes remaining in the first quarter, Clark and her teammates sprinted in transition, searching for another scoring opportunity.
Clark used a hesitation dribble at the free-throw line before delivering a perfect bounce pass to graduate forward Monika Cziano for a layup.
The national player of the year candidate drained 6-of-11 shots from behind the arc and seemed comfortable extending her range beyond the 3-point line.
With less than nine minutes until halftime, Clark unleashed and made a 40-foot three-pointer despite being fouled in the process.
Maryland struggled to remain glued to Clark, as she consistently created separation which led to several successful drives to the rim. Clark is a problem in her own right, but defensive blunders will increase the difficulty of contending with a player of her caliber.
“I think we could have been in her space a little bit more. You’re trying to guard her and she draws a lot of attention. There was a lot of miscommunication on defense [and] you have to stay attached to that girl’s hip because she’s capable of going off for 40, just like she did,” Sellers said.
Clark had defenders on their heels the entire evening, whether it’s with deep step-back 3-pointers or using her ultra-tight handle to get into the paint for finishes at the rim.
There aren’t many — or possibly any — players remaining on Maryland’s schedule that can score like Clark, but quite frankly there aren’t many in the country that can light up the scoreboard like she can.
The Terps struggled to get adequate offensive production outside of three players.
Maryland has a roster with multiple 1,000-point scorers, and it was going to need its contributions to pull off the road upset on Thursday night.
The Terps had three players score in double figures: Diamond Miller (27), Shyanne Sellers (26) and Abby Meyers (15). Outside of those players, no other player in a red Maryland uniform recorded more than six points.
Senior guard Lavender Briggs, a decorated transfer from Florida, struggled to generate any offense, as she recorded only two points in 12 minutes of action. Briggs looked indecisive at times and did not add much on the defensive end.
There hasn’t been a more consistent contributor off the bench for Maryland more than senior guard Brinae Alexander. The Vanderbilt transfer is shooting an impressive 45.7% from three point range and has recorded multiple games of two plus 3-pointers. Thursday’s game was one to forget for Alexander, though, as she never gained her usual comfort and was unable to make any shots from distance.
Maryland needed all hands on deck in the scoring department to secure a victory, but its inability to get multiple contributions played a role in its fate.
Luckily for the Terps, they can’t dwell on their loss for long, as No. 10 Ohio State comes to town on Sunday. Maryland will need a rebound performance from the entire roster to pick up its fifth top-25 victory of the season.