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No. 12 Maryland women’s basketball vs. No. 23 Michigan preview

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The Terps begin Big Ten play against one of the top teams in the conference.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament - Maryland vs Michigan Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

No. 12 Maryland women’s basketball will host No. 23 Michigan in its inaugural Big Ten game of the 2019-20 season Saturday.

This weekend’s contest marks just the team’s third game in the last 20 days — Maryland’s longest break between games it’ll experience all season. But the layoff has yet to show any lingering effects of rust for now, as the Terps demolished Georgia State 114-41 — their largest margin of victory this season — on the road following 10 days rest.

Now after another 10-day break, Maryland welcomes a conference opponents its dominated historically. The Terps are 7-1 all-time against the Wolverines, with their lone loss coming in Ann Arbor two seasons ago despite 27 points from then-sophomore Kaila Charles.

The game tips off at 8 p.m. and will be broadcasted on the Big Ten Network.

No. 23 Michigan Wolverines (9-2, 0-0 Big Ten)

Head coach Kim Barnes Arico has amassed more wins than any other coach in program history in her eight years with the Wolverines, totaling 165 career victories and leading her team to winning records in each season since 2012-13. Under her guidance, Michigan has earned berths to the NCAA tournament three times, including each of the last two seasons, and secured a WNIT title in 2016-17.

Players to Know

Sophomore forward Naz Hillmon (No. 00) has been a steady source of scoring for Arico since she stepped onto campus, leading Michigan in scoring for the second straight season 11 games through the 2019-20 campaign. A consensus All-Big Ten First Team selection a season ago, Hillmon has followed up her strong freshman season with a 14.9/8.1/2.7 line this season, serving the essential cog of the Michigan offense.

Senior forward Kayla Robbins (No. 5) helps anchor the Michigan front court alongside Hillmon, using her lengthy 6’1 frame to affect any and all shots at the rim. Having spent each of her first three seasons coming off the bench, Robbins has played her way into the starting lineup in her senior season and is averaging 12 points per game.

Freshman center Izabel Varejão (No. 34) is still raw as a player, but her size presents an intriguing matchup should she see extended time on the floor. A native of Brazil, Varejão is the tallest player at Arico’s disposal at 6’4, but has averaged just 5.7 points and 4.2 rebounds per game this season.

Strength

Scoring defense. After Maryland’s last two opponents allowed them to score over 100 points with relative ease, Michigan will not let baskets come nearly as easily. The Wolverine defense allows 59.3 points per game, putting them in the top-100 in scoring defense in Division I and fourth in the Big Ten. Saturday’s game should prove to be a sure test for a red-hot Terp offense.

Weakness

Three point shooting. Having lost both of its two leading three-point shooters from a season ago, Arico has struggled to replicate the same level of outside shooting with this year’s squad. Michigan has shot just 31.6 percent from three this season — good for 160th in the country in that category and seventh in the Big Ten. Expect the Terps to pack the paint on Saturday and dare the Wolverines to beat them from deep.

Three Things to Know

1. Can Maryland beat a ranked team? Despite steamrolling virtually every other opponent that’s been in their path, the Terps still have yet to beat a ranked team this season. Their two ranked games so far against South Carolina and N.C. State were the only two in which Maryland failed to score more than 60 points (it averages 88.0 per game), and the team hovered below 40 percent in field goal percentage in each of those losses.

2. Can the Terps keep up their three-point shooting? The team’s blowout win over Georgia State saw Maryland connect on a season-high 15 three-pointers in an effort led by sophomore guard Taylor Mikesell and Blair Watson, who each had seven shots fall from deep. The Wolverines defend the three-point line relatively well, but if Watson and Mikesell get going early once again, Maryland could build a large lead quickly.

3. Will Ashley Owusu return to form? After spending the early part of the season as the team’s leading scorer, the freshman has seen her scoring efficiency decline as the season has worn on. Though still thriving as the team’s primary facilitator, she’s failed to reach double-digits in each of the last two contests after doing so in seven of her first nine games with the Terps. Facing a tough defensive assignment on Saturday, Owusu will need to be at her best to get herself back on track.