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Maryland women’s basketball vs. Ohio State preview: Terps face biggest test of conference season

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Maryland hasn’t lost in the Big Ten, but the Buckeyes have what it takes.

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

Maryland women’s basketball enters the final week of the regular season 14-0 in the Big Ten and 26-1 overall. It hasn’t been tough lately for the No. 2 Terps, who have won seven straight games by double digits, including a 49-point drubbing of Wisconsin.

Monday’s game won’t be so easy. Ohio State sits at 13-1 in conference play, with the lone loss coming at Michigan State in January. This has been the biggest game on Maryland’s schedule since UConn, and the No. 12 Buckeyes have held up their end of the deal. They’re 23-5, and four of those losses came to top-15 teams: South Carolina, Baylor, Miami and UConn.

In all likelihood, the winner of this game will take control of the top seed in the Big Ten tournament (although they’ll technically split the regular season title if both finish 15-1). It’s also a great chance for the Terps to bolster their resume in the eyes of the selection committee, which has rated Maryland low in each early seed ranking so far.

Ohio State beat Maryland twice last season; those are the Terps’ only two Big Ten defeats since joining the conference in 2014. This year’s team still has scorer extraordinaire Kelsey Mitchell, but the Buckeyes lost forward Stephanie Mavunga to injury two weeks ago. The UNC transfer was averaging 11.8 points and 11.3 rebounds before going down.

Maryland point guard Destiny Slocum missed the Wisconsin game with an illness, although her teammates were more than fine without her. If she’s not ready for this one, the story might be different. However, the Terps still have their two star seniors. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough has scored at least 22 points in three straight games and is 20 away from 2,000 for her career, while Brionna Jones scored 28 points in Columbus last season and has dropped as many as 42 this year.

The game tips at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2. The new selection committee rankings will be revealed at halftime, although Maryland’s ranking won’t reflect Monday’s result.

Ohio State Buckeyes (23-5, 13-1 Big Ten)

2015-16 record: 26-8, 15-3

Head coach: Kevin McGuff has been Ohio State’s coach since 2013, and his previous stops were at Washington and Xavier. In all, he’s got a .703 winning percentage, which is fantastic.

Players to know

Kelsey Mitchell, junior, guard, 5’8, No. 3. One of the premier scorers in the nation and a contender once again for Big Ten Player of the Year. Not only is Mitchell leading the team with 23.2 points per game, she’s the only Buckeye to average over 25 minutes played. Ohio State relies on her to score from everywhere, and she’s pretty good at exactly that.

Sierra Calhoun, redshirt sophomore, guard, 6’0, No. 4. After transferring from Duke and sitting out last season, Calhoun has done a decent job filling the shoes of guard Ameryst Alston, who graduated last spring. She’s averaging 10 points per game and shoots 38.4 percent from three, which edges out Mitchell’s 38.2 percent as the best mark on the team.

Shayla Cooper, senior, forward, 6’2, No. 32. Cooper had double-doubles in both games against the Terps last year, and Ohio State might need her to record another one. She’s averaging 9.9 points and 5.9 rebounds this year, but has seen her role expand since Mavunga’s injury and dropped 20 points on Iowa on Feb. 12.

Strength

Rim protection. The Buckeyes lead the Big Ten with nearly six blocked shots per game. Ohio State has plenty of size up front, as McGuff can rotate Cooper, 6’4 freshman Tori McCoy and 6’3 junior Alexa Hart. Losing Mavunga’s 2.3 blocks hurts, but if anyone is equipped to weather that storm, it’s Ohio State.

Weakness

Three-point defense. Ohio State’s opponents are shooting 33.6 percent from beyond the arc, which is second-highest in the conference. However, it’s worth noting that the Buckeyes shoot 34.4 percent as a team, so they can hang in this game even if they let Maryland heat up from deep.

Prediction

Maryland wins, 92-86.