After fighting through Big Ten play early on, Maryland women’s basketball is rolling. The No. 11 Terrapins have won four games in a row, and the last two against Indiana and Wisconsin have been decided by 20 and 18 points, respectively.
The reason for the team’s success? Leading scorer Kaila Charles. She’s led the Terrapins in scoring this season with 16.3 points per game, but before last Sunday’s bout against Indiana, she had outings of three and eight points in the few games before. Charles scored 25 in the blowout win against the Hoosiers, going 12-of-19 from the floor while adding 11 rebounds. On Thursday against the Badgers, the junior guard was even better. She scored 22 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the floor, and she made six of her seven free throw attempts.
It’s no coincidence that Maryland’s best performances as a team line up with Charles’ best outings, and that’s why the Terps will need to keep her going if they want to continue to rack up conference victories.
Their next chance to get another win and solidify their second-place standing in the Big Ten will come on the road on Monday night, as the Terps will head to Illinois for a matchup against the Illini. Tipoff is schedule for 7:30 p.m. ET and the game can be watched on the Big Ten Network.
Illinois Fighting Illini (9-12, 1-9 Big Ten)
2017-18 record: 9-22, 0-16
Head coach Nancy Fahey is in just her second season with Illinois, and there’s been a tough adjustment period thus far as she hopes to rebuild the program. After spending an incredible 31 years at Division III Washington University in St. Louis, Fahey was given the keys to the castle at a Power 5 program. With the Bears, she racked up a 737-133 (.847) record with five national championships.
Players to know
Alex Wittinger, senior, forward, 6’1, No. 35. A four-year starter with the Illini, Wittinger is currently playing the best basketball of her career. A Second Team All-Big Ten honoree last year, she has improved to 15.2 points per game on 52.7 percent field goal shooting and a 50 percent mark from three-point territory.
Brandi Beasley, junior, guard, 5’6, No. 1. A member of the 2017 Big Ten all-freshman team, Beasley has been a great complement to Wittinger so far this season. She’s second on the team with an 11.5 points per game average, and she’s the leading distributor with 5.0 assists per game. And despite her lack of size, Beasley has averaged 4.0 rebounds per game, also second on the team.
Not much. With all due respect to the Illini, there is a legitimate reason why they have a 1-9 conference record. They don’t rank within the top six in the Big Ten in any category, and in most, they are either last or close to it. Fahey has experience taking a program and building it into a powerhouse, but that ability hasn’t been put on display just yet.
Rebounding. Illinois has little size in its rotation, as the few 6’2 and 6’3 players don’t play key roles. Wittinger has done her job thus far, leading the team with 7.8 rebounds per game. But beyond that, the Illini rank 12th in the conference with a minus-0.4 rebounding margin. Since conference play has started, they’ve been even worse, ranking dead last with a minus-6.8 margin.
Three things to know
1. Can Kaila Charles keep it up? I went into it before, so I’ll try not to repeat myself. But Charles has been Maryland’s best player so far this season, though she’s been inconsistent. When she’s on her game, the team is playing as well as possible and it opens up the court for everyone else.
2. Does Illinois keep things close? Illinois was fine during nonconference play, but a 1-9 record within the Big Ten has been tough on the program thus far. Since Dec. 28, the Illini have been outscored by an average margin of minus-10.8 points per game, second worst only to Wisconsin. The Badgers kept things somewhat tight for a while against Maryland on Thursday night, and Illinois will have to play strong from tipoff to keep it close as well.
3. Does Shakira Austin get stopped? Illinois’ best chance at stopping the 6’5 center is forcing her to take bad shots inside. That means keeping Austin from point-blank range and getting her back to the basket. Despite being the tallest player on the court each game, she is shooting just 44.4 percent from the floor and went 5-of-13 on Thursday night. She’s prone to mistakes, and Illinois will have to force them early and often.