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Maryland women’s basketball wears down Nebraska, 66-53, in Big Ten semifinals

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The Terps will meet Ohio State in the championship tomorrow.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament- Maryland vs Nebraska Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

For the fourth straight year, Maryland women’s basketball will play for a Big Ten tournament title. The Terps used suffocating defense and a balanced offensive effort to top Nebraska, 66-53, in Indianapolis on Saturday night.

With Kaila Charles struggling early, three players stepped up. Ieshia Small had 13 points in the first half to carry the offense, and Brianna Fraser was solid in both halves and finished with a team-high 18 points. Eleanna Christinaki had a solid all-around game despite going 4-for-14 from the field, chipping in 14 points, a career-high 16 rebounds and three assists. Charles eventually finished in double figures with 14 points and seven rebounds.

While the Terps were good offensively, they were even better on the defensive end. Nebraska shot just 32 percent from the field, including 25 percent over the first three quarters. Hannah Whitish scored just six points and went 2-for-12 from the field, and Kate Cain had six points and was in foul trouble throughout.

The game got off to a weird start, as Nebraska was issued a technical foul for Nicea Eliely’s uniform number not matching up with what was listed in the scorebook. Kristen Confroy hit one of two free throws before the opening tip, and Maryland scored four after that to jump out to an early lead.

The first quarter was a quarter of runs after that, with both teams hitting some shots in between a multitude of missed shots. Maryland went just 5-of-15 in the first quarter, and Nebraska was a slightly better 5-of-13.

The Huskers hit back-to-back threes off of second chance opportunities to take a 14-13 lead, but Maryland retook the lead on a Small jumper with 40 seconds to go in the quarter. Small hit her only two attempts in the first quarter, and remained blazing hot in the next ten minutes. The redshirt senior scored nine of Maryland’s next 12 points, even giving the crowd a Michael Jordan shrug after one jumper.

As good as Small was on offense, the Terps were possibly better on the defensive end. Nebraska hit just one field goal in the second quarter, and Maryland led 32-22 heading into the locker room.

Maryland scored the first five points of the third quarter to extend the lead to 15; at the time it was the largest lead of the night. The Huskers answered back with a 10-2 run to cut the lead to eight, but Maryland scored the last eight points of the quarter to push the lead back up to 15. Neither team had a field goal the last three minutes of the third quarter, and the Terps’ last six points of the quarter came on free throws.

Nebraska never got closer than 10 in the fourth quarter, and Maryland got out in transition and scored some easy buckets to put the game away.

Maryland will meet Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game Sunday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

Three things to know

  1. Maryland won this game on the defensive end. Nebraska has been the best defensive team in the conference this year, but it was the Terps who played lockdown defense tonight. The Terps held Nebraska to just 17 percent shooting in the second and third quarter, and as Brenda Frese said, “sucked the life out of [Nebraska].”
  2. When Kaila Charles was quiet, the Terps got huge contributions. Charles worked her way into double figures in the fourth quarter, but it was other players carrying the team early on. Small was excellent in the first half, Fraser was great all night and Christinaki made contributions all over the floor.
  3. It will finally be Maryland-Ohio State for a tournament championship. The Buckeyes finally did their part this year, besting Minnesota 90-88 in an exciting game. These have been the top two teams in the conference the past four years, but they’ve only met for the Big Ten tournament title once, a 77-74 Maryland win in 2015.