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Maryland women’s basketball vs. Iowa preview

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The Terps start 2018 with their toughest test in nearly two months.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Iowa at Minnesota Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland women’s basketball will start 2018 with a challenge. The Terps will welcome No. 18 Iowa to the Xfinity Center on Jan. 4 for their first matchup against a ranked team since playing No. 1 UConn on Nov. 18.

Maryland won its first two games in Big Ten play last week, crushing Illinois, 100-65, on Thursday and squeaking by at Penn State, 69-65, on Sunday. The Terps scored the last six points against the Nittany Lions, with Stephanie Jones hitting two free throws and a layup in the final minute.

Blair Watson had another strong game, scoring 15 points on five three-pointers. The sophomore’s 58 threes are third in the NCAA, and she has now hit at least five in five straight games. Maryland moved up two spots in the AP Poll to 13th this week after then-No. 11 UCLA and No. 14 Duke each lost.

The Hawkeyes are off to a 14-1 start, which is their best since 1995-96. Like Maryland, Iowa is also off to a 2-0 start in Big Ten play, winning at Nebraska and at home against No. 21 Michigan.

The Hawkeyes won both games without guards Tania Davis and Makenzie Meyer, who each average over five assists a game. Davis is out for the season after tearing her ACL against Northern Iowa on Dec. 17, and Meyer is out indefinitely after breaking a bone in her left hand in practice last week.

The Terps are 5-0 against Iowa since joining the Big Ten, picking up wins in Iowa City and College Park last season. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. ET, and the game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.

Iowa Hawkeyes (14-1, 2-0 Big Ten)

2016-17 record: 20-14, 8-8

Head coach Lisa Bluder is 357-203 in 18 seasons at Iowa. She’s the all-time winningest coach in program history, and has led the Hawkeyes to 11 NCAA Tournament appearances. Before coming to Iowa City, she spent six years as the head coach at NAIA St. Ambrose and nine years as the head coach at Drake. Bluder picked up her 700th career victory with an 83-67 win over Quinnipiac in the season opener.

Players to know

Megan Gustafson, junior, forward, 6’3, No. 10. Gustafson has been a monster this season, averaging 22.5 points and 12.5 rebounds per game on 68.9 percent shooting. She has 14 double-doubles already, and has been Big Ten Player of the Week four times. Gustafson was named to the All-Freshman Team in 2016, First Team All-Big Ten in 2017, and could be an All-American this year.

Alexis Sevillian, redshirt freshman, guard, 5’5, No. 5. Sevillian is Iowa’s biggest threat from the outside, shooting 41.1 percent from behind the arc while averaging 11.3 points per game. She’s started the last three games due to injuries to Davis and Meyer, and has played 77 minutes in the past two games.

Kathleen Doyle, sophomore, guard, 5’9, No. 22. Doyle has seen a greater role as a playmaker with Davis out, averaging 9.9 points and a team-leading 5.6 assists per game. She had a career-high 23 points and nine assists against Michigan.

Chase Coley, senior, forward, 6’3, No. 4. Coley has taken back her starting role after losing it as a junior, and is averaging 7.9 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. She shoots 54.9 percent from the field, so she can finish possessions when Gustafson draws more attention.

Hannah Stewart, junior, forward, 6’2, No. 21. Stewart has provided has provided a spark off the bench with 7.2 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. She didn’t provide the same boost to start Big Ten play, going just 3-for-10 from the field.

Strength

Offensive efficiency. The Hawkeyes lead the Big Ten in field goal percentage (.504), assists per game (22.7) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.46). This is the best offense Maryland has faced in weeks.

Weakness

Forcing turnovers. Iowa forces just 12.27 turnovers per game, which is 335th in the NCAA. It hasn’t needed to be as aggressive on defense due to its excellent offense, but that could change against an up-tempo team like Maryland.

Three things to watch

  1. How does Maryland contain Megan Gustafson? Much like Brionna Jones last year, you can’t stop Gustafson, you can only hope to contain her. The junior has had at least 15 points and nine rebounds in every game, and is also an excellent foul shooter. Brenda Frese could try to pack it in inside, but if Iowa starts hot from outside that could open up things down low, which is exactly what happened against A’ja Wilson and South Carolina.
  2. After Channise Lewis, who runs the offense? Lewis played just 19 minutes a game last week, which means Maryland went more than half a game without a true point guard on the floor. Sarah Myers backed up Lewis to start the season, but Ieshia Small and Kristen Confroy were in charge of the offense with Lewis on the bench last week.
  3. What does Maryland do against a team at its level? This is the first game on the Terps’ schedule that seems on paper like it could truly go either way. Iowa can keep up with Maryland and exploit its shallow depth down low. Expect a high-scoring and exciting game Thursday night.

Prediction

Maryland wins, 82-79.