All the pieces were in place for Maryland women’s basketball to get a top-two seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Terrapins were riding high on an eight-game winning streak and controlled their own destiny for a Big Ten championship.
Then Iowa happened.
More specifically, Megan Gustafson happened. The nation’s leading scorer scored 31 of Iowa’s 86 points against the Terrapins, and she scored 24 in the second half alone.
Now the Terrapins are in a tie at the top of the conference standings, though the Hawkeyes would have the tiebreaker if both teams win out. In the meantime, the Terrapins need to bounce back.
Maryland will have a chance to get back in the win column on Thursday, as Minnesota, which is currently receiving votes in the AP top 25, will travel to College Park in hopes of knocking off the No. 8 Terps. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET and the game can be watched on BTN Plus.
Minnesota Golden Gophers (19-7, 8-7 Big Ten)
2017-18 record: 24-9, 11-5
Head coach Lindsay Whalen is in her first year with Minnesota, taking over for Marlene Stollings, who left for Texas Tech after an NCAA Tournament appearance last season. Whalen may be one of, if not the most intriguing coach in college basketball right now, as she was hired while still a member of the Minnesota Lynx.
She’s since retired following the 2018 professional season, now committing to coaching full-time. But Whalen, now 36 years old, has racked up an impressive number of accolades in her 15-year career. She ended her career as the winningest player in WNBA history with 323 victories, and she was a staple with Team USA in international play as well over the years.
Players to know
Kenisha Bell, redshirt senior, guard, 5’9, No. 23. Bell started her collegiate career at Marquette, and since arriving in Minneapolis, she’s been terrific. A unanimous All-Big Ten First Team selection a year ago, Bell has once again been the leader for the Golden Gophers so far this season. She currently averages 18.8 points (third in the Big Ten), 5.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.1 steals per game, and she was recently named as a semifinalist for the 2019 Naismith Women’s Defensive Player of the Year Award.
Destiny Pitts, sophomore, guard/forward, 5’10, No. 3. As a freshman, Pitts had a year to remember. She averaged 13.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, and was unanimously named the the 2017-18 Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Now with a year of experience under her belt, Pitts’ scoring is up to 14.7 points per game and she’s become a facilitator with 2.5 assists per game.
Defense. Minnesota’s success this season has been thanks to its play on the defensive end. On the year, opponents have averaged just 58.8 points per game against the Gophers, which ranks second in the Big Ten. They’ve held teams to 50 points or less an impressive eight times in 26 games so far.
Three-point shooting. Minnesota hasn’t necessarily been bad at shooting three-pointers, as the Gophers hit those shots at a 32.6 percent clip, which is seventh in the Big Ten, though that number ranks 10th in conference play. The quantity is also pretty low: Minnesota makes just 4.7 triples a game, 11th in the conference, and its three-point rate of 20.7 percent ranks 320th in the country.
Three things to watch
1. How does Maryland bounce back? The Terps trailed most of the game on Sunday against Iowa, but they were able to take the lead in the fourth quarter, something they weren’t able to do in their previous two losses. No matter, a loss is still a loss, and Maryland can ill afford to take another with a tie at the top of the conference. The last two times, the Terrapins have come out slow and looked sluggish trying to bounce back from a defeat.
2. Will Kaila Charles get back on track? The junior has been Maryland’s best player this season, as she averages 15.7 points per game while shooting 49.2 percent from the field. But in the Terrapins’ three losses, Charles has been simply bad, averaging 6.7 points per game while making just 7-of-29 field goals. If the team wants to avoid another loss, she has to step up her game.
3. Can Kenisha Bell will Minnesota to victory? Bell has been a leader for the Golden Gophers the last three seasons, and this year, she may have less help than ever. She’s one of the most dangerous players in the conference because of her playmaking ability at both ends of the floor, and it’ll be interesting to see whether Maryland decides to double-team her on offense and avoid her completely on defense.