Due to finals and the holidays, Maryland women’s basketball has played just one game in the past 16 days. That game ended with the Terrapins ahead by 24 points over Delaware, but it was far from a typical performance for the now-No. 4 team in the nation.
As a team, the Terps shot just 36.8 percent from the floor and 28.6 percent from long range. Combined with 18 turnovers and a failure to out-hustle the feisty Blue Hens, and the team with an 11-0 record looked far from perfect. Maryland had a 10-day layoff since its last game, so a certain amount of rust was bound to be present. But it was a disconcerting showing nonetheless, and now coming off an eight-day layoff, the Terrapins will have to be better than they were over a week ago.
With nonconference action officially over until the NCAA Tournament, it’s time for the Terps to show their worth against their foes in the Big Ten. First up on the list is Penn State. Friday’s game against the Nittany Lions in State College, Pennsylvania, is slated to begin at 7 p.m. ET and can be streamed through BTN Plus.
Penn State Nittany Lions (7-4)
2017-18 record: 16-16 (6-10 Big Ten)
Head coach Coquese Washington is in her 12th season in charge of the Nittany Lions, compiling a 204-155 (.568) record along the way. Under her leadership, Penn State has made seven national postseason appearances, including a WNIT berth just last season. Washington was part of the 2000 Houston Comets team that won the WNBA title following an illustrious collegiate career at Notre Dame.
Players to know
Teniya Page, senior, guard, 5’7, No. 11. Now in her final season with the Nittany Lions, Page is playing the best basketball of her career. She has been the team’s leading scorer ever since coming to campus, but this season, she’s boasting an average of 19.8 points per game, over eight full points more than any other Penn State player. She also leads the team in passing, averaging 3.5 assists per outing.
Kamaria McDaniel, sophomore, guard, 5’10, No. 5. McDaniel appeared in all 32 games for Penn State as a freshman, but she only averaged 5.0 points across 17.4 minutes. Now seeing regular starts and a large chunk of time on the court, McDaniel has raised her scoring output to 11.4 points per game, tied for second on the team.
Alisa Smith, sophomore, forward, 6’3, No. 1. Like McDaniel, Smith didn’t see too much action as a freshman. But in her sophomore season, she has broken out to become the team’s go-to forward in the post. Smith has averaged 10.9 points per game while shooting an efficient 51.3 percent from the floor, and thanks to her 6’3 frame, the sophomore currently leads the team with 7.7 rebounds per appearance.
Free-throw shooting. Scoring hasn’t come particularly easy to Penn State so far this season. The team averages 71.3 points per game on 41.1 percent shooting, but its saving grace has come from the free-throw line. The Nittany Lions hit 75.7 of their chances from the charity stripe, good for second in the conference and 30th in the nation.
Defense. Penn State’s play on its own side of the court has been incredibly suspect thus far, as the team allows opponents to average 68.9 points per game, the third-worst mark in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions allow the opposition to make shots at a 41 percent clip, highest in the Big Ten.
Three things to watch
1. How do the layoffs affect each team? The effects of a long time between games on Maryland have already been seen, as the Terrapins failed to separate themselves from Delaware until the final minutes of action. On the other side, Penn State will be entering play off a 12-day break following back-to-back wins. Should each team exhibit signs of rust, Friday’s game could be a grind.
2. Will anyone stop Shakira Austin? After her incredible individual performance against the Blue Hens — 17 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks — Austin was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week for the fourth time this season. Standing at 6’5, she is a tough matchup for any team, and since Penn State’s tallest player in the rotation is Alisa Smith at 6’3, Austin could be a nightmare for the Nittany Lions as they hope to keep her contained.
3. Does Maryland stop Penn State’s offense? The team’s scoring average isn’t that high at all, but the Nittany Lions boast five players who average double-digit points per game. They’re led by All-Big Ten guard Teniya Page, but points can come from all over the court at any given time. Page will be the main focus of Brenda Frese’s game plan, but the Terrapins need to be prepared to stop the ball, no matter who is holding onto it.