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No. 3-seed Maryland women’s basketball Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals preview: No. 6-seed Illinois

The Terps face the Fighting Illini in the quarterfinals.

Photo courtesy of Chris Lyons/Maryland Athletics

No. 3-seed Maryland women’s basketball will face No. 6-seed Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals on Friday. The annual conference tournament has relocated this year from Indianapolis to the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Tipoff is set for 25 minutes after the conclusion of Wisconsin vs. Purdue, which will start at approximately 6:30 p.m. ET. It will broadcast live on Big Ten Network.

The Terps and Illinois will square off for the second time this season with the former pulling away for an 82-71 victory at XFINITY Center in College Park on Feb. 12.

Illinois dismantled Rutgers Thursday with an 81-55 victory in the second round. Illinois star guard Makira Cook led all scorers with 24 points on an efficient 10-for-13 showing from the field.

Maryland is 11-2 away from College Park and 2-1 on neutral courts. The Terps hope their success on the road this season carries into tournament play in March.

“I think all of it is great preparation for going on the road and being on a neutral court [and] helping us in the NCAA Tournament,” Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said when asked about how her team’s away success would translate to the postseason. “That’s why you play those games and for great preparation for that.”

Game information

Friday, March 3, approximately 9 p.m. ET, Target Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota

TV: Big Ten Network

Streaming: FOX Sports

How did they get here?

No. 3-seed Maryland Terrapins (24-5, 15-3 Big Ten)

Coming into the season, there weren’t many teams in the country that had as much roster turnover as Maryland. With nine new additions and only one starter (Diamond Miller) returning, the Terps would be forced to gel quickly under head coach Brenda Frese.

Maryland began the season ranked No. 17 and would be tested right out of the gate.

Defending national champion South Carolina traveled to XFINITY Center for a highly anticipated showdown with the Terps. To much surprise, Maryland trailed only 32-36 going into the half. The Terps played well despite missing star guard Diamond Miller due to injury but eventually lost, 81-56.

In December, the Terps traveled to Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center in Indiana for a clash with then-No. 7 Notre Dame in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. With seconds to go, star guard Diamond Miller (31 points) used a screen from teammate Faith Masonius and drilled a one-legged viral fadeaway for a 74-72 victory.

Legendary head coach Geno Auriemma and then-No. 6 UConn traveled to tip off their new home-and-home series with Maryland in a December trip to College Park. The Terps had four double-digit scorers, led by Abby Meyers’ 20 points and four 3-pointers. Maryland won 85-78 in front of a near-sellout crowd.

The Terps, winners of four in a row, ended the season with three Big Ten rematches from earlier in the season.

After squeaking past Michigan State, 66-61, Maryland returned to its home arena for a prime-time game with guard Caitlin Clark and then-No. 6 Iowa. The Terps put on a show from deep with 14 threes, with reserve guard Brinae Alexander sinking 6 of her 9 attempts.

In the season finale versus Ohio State, Maryland executed down the stretch and earned a 76-74 victory over then-No. 16 Ohio State.

The Terps played well to finish the season and will look to keep it going in tournament play.

“They’ve [Big Ten] proven that time and time again with tough games that we’ve played, the schedule of the conference being the best it’s ever been. So it’s the toughest now going into the tournament that it’s ever been,” Frese said.

No. 6-seed Illinois Fighting Illini (22-8, 11-7 Big Ten)

Illinois entered the 2022-23 season looking to build off an abysmal 7-20 (1-13 Big Ten) record.

It started the season 6-1 before traveling for a matchup with Pittsburgh in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Illinois shot over 50% from the field, drained 14-of-24 three point attempts, and recorded an 83.3% free throw percentage, pummelling its ACC counterparts, 92-71.

Illinois started 2023 with a home matchup with Iowa and delivered a dazzling performance in a 90-86 victory.

The Fighting Illini recorded their first 20-win season since 2007-08 and are led by the dynamic backcourt duo of Genesis Bryant and Cook.

The blue and orange squad finished the season 22-8 and 11-7 in conference play, increasing their win total by an impressive 15 games from the season prior.

What happened last time

The two Big Ten teams met on Feb. 12 in a Sunday matinee in College Park.

Miller dominated with 31 points and nine rebounds, as Illinois had no answer for the unanimous All-Big Ten first-team selection.

The Terps trailed 37-28 at the half, but exploded with a 31-8 point margin in the third quarter to build a comfortable lead heading into the final quarter of play.

Cook had her way with Maryland’s defense with 29 points and four 3-pointers.

Illinois’ 12 three-pointers were not enough to change the outcome, as Maryland’s resurgent second half led to a double-digit-point victory.

The Terps clinched their 10th home triumph despite going 0-for-17 from distance.

Last time, Illinois guard Genesis Bryant missed the game with a reported injury and figures to play a role in the teams’ postseason matchup. Bryant scored 21 points in Illinois’ victory over Rutgers on Thursday.

Three things to watch

1. Can the Terps advance? Since joining the Big Ten in 2014, Maryland has been a force with five conference tournament championships. The Terps head into Friday night’s matchup looking to win their first Big Ten Tournament game since the 2020-21 season, a year where they claimed the conference crown. Last season, the Terps disappointed many, as they were bounced in their first game by Indiana. Maryland is currently on a six-game winning streak and will look to keep it going Friday versus Illinois.

2. What’s the plan for defending Cook? The last time Illinois and Maryland met, Cook dazzled fans with 29 points and four 3-pointers. Cook, a Dayton transfer, is fourth in the Big Ten with 18.1 points per game this season. The 5-foot-6 guard has a quick first step and has shown the ability to score on all three levels. In Thursday’s victory over Rutgers, Cook impacted the game from the opening tip and will look to continue applying pressure on Friday night.

3. How will Miller begin her expected last Big Ten Tournament? Maryland star guard Diamond Miller is set to play in her final Big Ten Tournament, as the New Jersey native is projected as a top-3 pick in the 2023 WNBA Draft. Miller, a unanimous All-Big Ten first-team selection, has played well with a third-best conference ranking of 19.9 points per game. The 6-foot-3 guard keeps defenses at bay in transition by defending her drives to the basket or a kick out to one of her many shooters on the perimeter. It will be interesting to see how quickly Miller looks to put her imprint on this game.

The road ahead

If the Terps can defeat Illinois for the second time this season, a third matchup with a top-10 squad could be on the horizon.

With a victory over the Fighting Illini on Friday, Maryland would face the winner of No. 7-seed Purdue and No. 2-seed Iowa on Saturday afternoon. Maryland defeated Purdue 77-74 in December following a game-winning 3-pointer by sophomore guard Shyanne Sellers.

Maryland and Iowa met twice this season, with each winning on its home court. Clark torched Maryland for 42 points, seven rebounds and eight assists in the first matchup.

The two met a few weeks later at XFINITY Center and Maryland returned the favor, cruising to a 96-68 victory. The Terps limited Clark to 18 points.

If Thursday’s slate of games is an indication of what’s to come, this weekend’s fight for Big Ten supremacy should be compelling to watch.