Maryland women’s basketball has now won seven games in a row, and with a blowout victory over Rutgers on Sunday, it has a game-and-a-half lead in the Big Ten standings.
The Terrapins are now up to No. 7 in the AP Poll, their highest ranking since December, but the most important accolade came on Monday night, as the NCAA selection committee gave them a No. 11 overall seed, which translates to a No. 3 seed in the tournament if the season ended right now. Staying in that range is absolutely vital for Maryland, which would get to host a pair of games in the tournament should it hold a top-four seed. In the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season, the Terps lost on the road at NC State.
To make sure they hold their spot, the Terrapins need to avoid any bad losses going forward. That includes this upcoming game against Nebraska (11-13, 6-7 Big Ten), which Maryland has already beaten earlier this season. But that’s not to say that the Cornhuskers can be overlooked.
“They’re hard-nosed, they’re scrappy, and they’re experienced,” head coach Brenda Frese said Tuesday. “Hannah Whitish is playing really, really well and they have some talented freshmen that have made a big impact.”
“We know Nebraska’s a really good team,” junior forward Stephanie Jones said. “We just have to lock in and come in here ready to play.”
Tipoff at the Xfinity Center is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET and the game can be watched on the Big Ten Network.
What happened last time
Back on Jan. 8, the Terps and Cornhuskers met in Lincoln as the Terrapins were just over a week removed from their first loss of the season to Rutgers, and they were looking for a big win to get back on track.
That happened on Tuesday night, as Maryland jumped out to a lead to end the first quarter and never looked back—the Terrapins outscored Nebraska in every quarter on the way to an 81-63 victory. It was a typical Kaila Charles performance, as the junior led all scorers with 19 points while shooting 57.1 percent from the floor. Taylor Mikesell and Blair Watson were terrific, each shooting 4-of-7 from beyond the arc and combining for 28 points.
Nebraska’s offense struggled mightily following a 23-point first quarter, and none of the Cornhuskers managed to break into the double digits in scoring. The star of the game was 6’5 sophomore Kate Cain, who scored five points, secured 10 rebounds and racked up six blocks.
(Here’s the preview and recap from the first meeting.)
What’s happened since
Maryland beat Michigan at home before being dominated by Michigan State the game after, giving the team its second loss of the season. That misstep was a wake-up call for the Terps, however, as each of the team’s seven consecutive wins have been decided by double digits and an average margin of 15.1 points per game.
Like the rest of its season, Nebraska has been up and down after losing to Maryland. The Cornhuskers have played seven conference games in that time span, winning three. But they’re playing better than the 3-4 record would indicate, as they’ve outscored opponents by a combined 21 points since Jan. 8.
Three things to watch
1. Can Maryland keep it rolling? At this point in the season, Maryland women’s basketball has one goal in mind: win. Obviously teams want to win, but the Terps control their own destiny for the rest of the season by simply not losing. A perfect end to the season would include a Big Ten regular season championship, a Big Ten tournament title, and if they don’t slip up, likely a top-two seed in the NCAA Tournament. But they key to getting there is taking it one game at a time.
“There’s too many games left in the schedule,” Frese said. “The Rutgers game doesn’t really matter if you don’t come back and play the next game better.”
2. Which Nebraska shows up? There have been two different Cornhuskers teams that have taken the court so far this season. One is very good, and that squad has beaten a then-ranked Minnesota team and lost to Louisville, Iowa and Rutgers by a combined 16 points. Then there’s the other Nebraska team, which has lost to Wisconsin and Washington State, who have a combined 5-20 record in their respective conferences. That’s the one that hosted Maryland just over a month ago, but either way, the Terps will have to play with the same energy and mindset.
“We did very good when we were attacking them off the bounce,” senior forward Brianna Fraser said. “If we continue to do that and know our personnel and play good defense, we’ll be fine.”
3. Who controls the rebounding battle? The first time these two met, it was actually Nebraska that won the war on the glass. Granted, it was only by a 38-37 margin, but there were times the Cornhuskers were the more physical team, as evidenced by their nine blocks. Over the seven-game winning streak, Maryland has outrebounded its opponents in every game. That’ll be a key to victory on Thursday night.