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Maryland women’s basketball vs. Minnesota preview: Terps open Big Ten play on the road

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As the calendar turns over, conference play begins.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Connecticut at Maryland Rafael Suanes-USA TODAY Sports

After a 12-1 start to the 2016-17 season, the Maryland women’s basketball team begins its quest for another Big Ten title Sunday at Minnesota.

The No. 4 Terps lost a thriller at home to No. 1 UConn Thursday, but Brenda Frese’s team has a lot of positives to take from that game. Maryland’s non-conference slate was still successful, with wins over No. 8 Louisville, No. 18 Arizona State and a Washington State team that beat the Terps two seasons ago.

The UConn loss did spark some debate over whether Maryland’s non-conference slate prepared the team for Thursday’s game. While the Terps did spend plenty of time throttling mid-majors, their early schedule was still respectable, especially compared to last year.

Maryland won the Big Ten in each of its first two seasons, and is heavily favored this time around. The Terps’ only two losses in conference play last year came to Ohio State, who is ranked 14th right now. No other Big Ten teams are currently in the top 25.

Minnesota is perhaps the most revamped team in the conference. The Gophers lost Rachel Banham, a superstar guard who averaged 29 points per game last year, to the WNBA, and two senior starters graduated alongside her. This year’s unit has relied heavily on freshmen and transfers, but the results have been pretty good. The team’s five losses have all been to Power 5 opponents, and three were against ranked teams—No. 6 South Carolina, No. 7 Florida State and No. 14 Ohio State in the Big Ten opener Wednesday.

The Terps-Gophers matchup will be available on BTN Plus at 6 p.m. Sunday.

Minnesota Golden Gophers (9-5, 0-1 Big Ten)

2015-16 record: 20-12, 11-7 B1G

Head coach: Marlene Stollings has a 52-27 record in three seasons at Minnesota. She led the Gophers to the NCAA Tournament in 2015 and the second round of the WNIT last year.

Players to know

Carlie Wagner, junior, guard, 5’10, No. 33. Wagner was one of the top sidekicks in the game last year, averaging 18.9 points as Banham’s backcourt partner. She’s at 18.1 points and 5.1 rebounds this season, although her shooting percentages are underwhelming: 34.6 percent from the field and 30.3 percent from three (she jacks up nearly eight threes per game).

Kenisha Bell, redshirt sophomore, guard, 5’9, No. 23. The Marquette transfer is second on the team with 16.7 points on average. Bell sat out last season, but averaged 14.5 points as a freshman at Marquette and earned an All-Big East rookie selection.

Gadiva Hubbard, freshman, guard, 5’9, No. 34. Hubbard wasn’t a huge prospect, but she’s been effective immediately, playing over 31 minutes per game and putting up 13.8 points, 3.0 boards, 2.6 assists and 1.5 steals.

Bryanna Fernstrom, junior, center, 6’5, No. 14. Fernstrom transferred from Iowa State midway through the 2015-16 season and became eligible to play for the Gophers after the fall semester. She made her Minnesota debut against Ohio State and finished with 12 points and 10 boards.

Jessie Edwards, junior, center, 6’3, No. 10. The team’s main center while Fernstrom was ineligible, Edwards is averaging 8.5 points, 7.9 boards and 2.2 blocks. She’ll still have a role, as evidenced by her 9-point, 7-rebound performance against the Buckeyes, but her minutes won’t be as extensive.

Strength

Depth. Ten Gophers have started at least two games, and Minnesota went 11 deep against Ohio State. Stollings has plenty of weapons, which helps offset the loss of Banham.

Weakness

Turnovers. The Gophers average 16.8 giveaways per game and have a negative assist-to-turnover ratio. Bell has 67 turnovers in 13 games, and Maryland’s press could make it a long night for her.

Prediction

Maryland wins, 86-70.