Fans packed into XFINITY Center more than an hour before tip to watch Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, one of the best players in all of college basketball. But Maryland women’s basketball nearly matched her step for step.
Things looked dismal at times, no doubt. But the Terps’ fight and will to persevere kept them in the game far longer against the No. 3 Hawkeyes than many anticipated. In the end, Maryland fell to the reigning national runners-up, 93-85, marking the Terps’ fourth straight loss.
“I’ve never seen that many people in a gym,” Maryland guard Jakia Brown-Turner said. “It was very loud, you know, for both sides, honestly.”
Clark took Iowa’s first three shots and controlled the ball for the majority of its offensive possessions. With incessant boos ringing out from the sold-out crowd, she hit just one of them: a step-back three. The others missed, and she also committed two traveling violations within just a minute of each other.
All the while, Maryland didn’t let the nature of the big stage affect its play. It remained composed and didn’t settle for unnecessary shots early on. The 11-3 run it embarked on in the opening three minutes of play was a perfect blend of outside shooting and aggressive but poised drives.
But then the Terps hit a cold streak after a Hawkeyes timeout. An 0-for-4 shooting stretch combined with an 8-0 Iowa scoring run allowed the visiting team to climb back into the contest and eventually take the lead.
Ultimately, the opening frame saw the tides change quickly. Iowa’s seven 3-pointers were too much for Maryland to keep up with. Clark also heated up tremendously, ending the period with 14 points on 4-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc.
“Thought we made Caitlin [Clark] work for everything that she got tonight,” said Terps head coach Brenda Frese.
Things got even more dicey for the home team in the second quarter. At first, it kept things close, but then the floodgates began to open.
In the next few minutes, the Hawkeyes showcased their ability to transition defense into offense. A 6-0 run included multiple fast-breaks and forced turnovers. This, coupled with offensive rebounding, granted them a 14-point advantage at the half.
The third quarter may have very well been Maryland’s finest of the entire season. Grit, toughness and steady defense underscored the Terps’ climb back into the game. In just under six minutes of play, they not only tied the game, but snatched the lead back.
“We wanted to slow the game down,” Frese said. “We wanted layups, we wanted to run the offense ... I thought we we adjusted a little bit better in the second half.”
Bri McDaniel — Maryland’s energizer bunny all season long — was the catalyst in the comeback, recording 11 third-quarter points on 4-for-5 shooting. The Terps shot 9-for-15 as a team in the frame.
Still, aided by Clark’s timely shooting and a bit of regression from the Terps, Iowa took a 73-66 lead into the final quarter.
The fourth quarter became a back-and-forth battle — one of the most exciting stretches of the Terps’ season. Threes rained down, one after the other.
Iowa led by just six with just over a minute to play, but Maryland underwent a scoring drought that lasted over three minutes. A 3-pointer by Molly Davis effectively ended the game.
“This is what our conference is going to bring. I mean, it’s a battle every single night,” Frese said.
Three things to know
1. Clark dazzled. Clark’s season-low scoring total heading into the game was 21 points. On Saturday night, she surpassed that total in just the first half, notching 23 points in the opening 20 minutes of play. She finished the night with 38 points, six rebounds and 12 assists.
“People spend a lot of time, money and resources to come see us play and whenever I step on the court, you know, I just want to have a lot of fun,” Clark said. “I’ve been able to find a lot of joy and calmness in that.”
2. Rebounding was an issue. This isn’t a new problem for Maryland, nor is it one that typically rears its ugly head as much as it did Saturday night. Maryland lost the offensive rebounding battle, 17-7.
Iowa was able to capitalize on second-chance opportunities, especially in critical fourth-quarter moments. Ultimately, it racked up 17 second-chance points and out-rebounded Maryland, 48-32.
3. Some positives on offense. The Terps keeping their composure through the lows and was admirable. They stuck to their fundamentals: ball movement, midrange shooting and opportunistic buckets.
Maryland shot a respectable 46.3% from the floor and scored 34 paint points against a team that had considerably more size.