No. 8 Maryland women’s basketball bounced back in emphatic fashion against then-No. 10 Ohio State on Feb. 5, taking down now the Buckeyes by a whopping 36 points. The blowout win followed a disappointing loss on the road against then-No. 6 Iowa, the Terps’ first loss in nearly a month. The 36-point margin of victory against the Buckeyes was the largest win against a top 10 opponent in program history.
The Terps (19-5, 10-3 Big Ten) are currently in third place in the conference but aren’t sitting comfortably. Ohio State and Michigan are on their heels, both with nine conference wins. The top four seeds in the conference get a double-bye in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament, so each game here on out has an added importance.
After back-to-back tough matchups, Maryland now heads on the road to take on a lesser opponent in Northwestern. Maryland’s taken 12 of its 13 matchups against the Wildcats.
Tipoff is set for 8:30 p.m this Thursday, Feb. 9, on the Big Ten Network.
Northwestern Wildcats (8-15, 1-11 Big Ten)
Northwestern is struggling to stay afloat this season in what has been a shockingly unpredictable year.
Head coach Joe McKeown ranks fourth among active Big Ten coaches in total wins and has produced winning teams for most of his 14-year tenure, but this year’s squad is set to be the first Northwestern team to have a losing season in five years. The Wildcats are only three seasons removed from a 2019-20 campaign in which they finished 26-4.
The Wildcats lost star guard Veronica Burton to the draft last year, and their young talents have not been able to put it together this season. They are 1-15 against power conference opponents this season, and will need a monumental upset on Thursday to keep that number at just 15 losses.
Players to know
Caileigh Walsh, sophomore forward, 6-foot-3, No. 10 — The Wildcats have struggled immensely to score this season, but Walsh is leading the team in that department. She possesses the best size on the team, allowing her to be fairly efficient on the interior. The sophomore leads the team in points, rebounds and blocks. She will also step outside to shoot from distance, knocking down threes at a clip of just below 30%. Walsh hasn’t been great of late, though, with just 15 points in the last two games combined.
Sydney Wood, graduate guard, 5-foot-11, No. 3 — The Montgomery County, Maryland native is the most experienced Wildcat, spending her entire five-year career in Evanston, Illinois. A team captain, she’s doing what she can to help Northwestern during this disastrous year. Wood is most dangerous on defense, as she averages close to four takeaways per game. She’s also averaging over 10 points per game, which is about one-sixth of Northwestern’s total offense.
Paige Mott, junior forward, 6-foot-1, No. 20 — Northwestern’s been searching for offense all season, and it might have found a hidden gem in Mott. Unfortunately, her coming-out party only started a few games ago. Mott has been a solid, consistent player in the Wildcats’ lineup over the course of the past three years, but she hit a second gear in their Jan. 19 loss at Ohio State. Since that matchup, she’s averaged 15 points per game and has also been a force on the offensive glass. She leads the team in points and rebounds over the past six games.
Blocked shots. The Wildcats, who rank in the bottom half of the conference in almost every major statistical category, have a surprisingly strong interior defense. They average 4.64 rejections per game, second in the Big Ten only to Indiana. Walsh leads the team with 29 blocks, including three in the Wildcats’ last game against Nebraska.
Scoring. Northwestern’s dead last in the conference in scoring, netting just 64.8 points per game. Walsh and Wood are the only two players averaging over 10 points per game, and the team’s shooting at under 39% overall from the field. From 3-point range, it’s only taken 384 shots, which is almost 100 fewer than Maryland. The Wildcats are making threes at a 27% clip, by far the worst in the Big Ten.
Three things to watch
1. If Maryland plays defense like it did against Ohio State, this one won’t be close. “So good,” Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said of how good the team’s defense can be after limiting Ohio State to a season-low 54 points. Northwestern has only reached 70 points twice in conference play, whereas Maryland has only allowed one team to eclipse that mark against them in over a month (Iowa scored 92). The Terps have recently built double-digit first-quarter leads, and this one will be done after 10 minutes if they’re able to replicate that mark.
2. More minutes for Bri McDaniel? It’s no secret that Frese hasn’t liked to extend her bench much this season, but the freshman guard has been an exception. She entered in the first quarter against Ohio State, and has continued to play valuable minutes in conference play. Her teammates and Frese alike have continuously applauded the energy she brings off the bench, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see McDaniel see a heavy workload before the Terps begin a string of four quadrant one games to end the season.
3. Maryland can’t afford any mistakes from Thursday on. As said earlier, the Big Ten is incredibly close right now, with six teams still alive in the hunt for a top-four seed in the conference tournament. Any slip-up from the Terps could have a devastating impact, especially with rematches against Iowa and Ohio State on the horizon.