Don’t look now, but the Maryland women’s basketball team is perhaps playing at its highest level of the season.
After losing two games in less than three weeks to Rutgers and then Michigan State, the No. 10 Terrapins have won six games in a row, and each has been of the blowout variety. The average margin of victory has been 15.3 points per game, and had the Terps not let up somewhat late, that number could have been even higher. Last time out on Thursday night, Maryland dominated in the first half and saw its lead balloon to 27 points before the Wildcats cut the deficit to 15 points by the end of the game.
But now, the Terrapins will have to fact their toughest test of the season, and a seventh-consecutive blowout victory could be extremely difficult to attain. For the second time this season, Maryland will face off against Rutgers, which it lost to on New Year’s Eve. While a win would put Maryland a game and a half up in the Big Ten standings, head coach Brenda Frese knows that every game is equally important.
“You could win tomorrow and then lose your next one,” she said. “With what we have ahead, we’re just taking it one game at a time. There’s too many great games left on our schedule. But every time you are able to get a win, you’re able to separate yourself a little bit more.”
Tipoff in Piscataway is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET and the game can be watched on BTN2Go.
What happened last time
Maryland and Rutgers played a close game from start to finish, as neither team led by more than eight points for the full 40 minutes. Unfortunately for the Terps, the Scarlet Knights trailed for just 1:43 and controlled the game throughout.
Rutgers’ leading (then second-leading) scorer Stasha Carey entered play averaging 9.9 points per game, but against the Terrapins, she was dominant. The redshirt senior tormented Maryland coming off the bench, as she tied Taylor Mikesell with a game-high 18 points while shooting 6-of-13 from the field, making her only three-pointer, and sinking all five of her free throws.
Mikesell, Kaila Charles and Blair Watson did their part, each scoring in double figures and combining for 44 points. But Maryland’s bigs—Stephanie Jones, Brianna Fraser and Shakira Austin—were neutralized, scoring just 21 points between the three of them. Rutgers also outrebounded the Terps on their home court by a 38-28 margin, playing much more physically than the then-No. 4 team in the nation.
What’s happened since
At the time of the first meeting, a Rutgers win over Maryland was considered something of a big upset. The Scarlet Knights entered play with just an 8-3 record and had losses to Drake, Gonzaga and Virginia Tech before beating a top-five team in the nation.
Now, the Scarlet Knights have established themselves as one of the best teams not only in the Big Ten, but the country as a whole. Led by legendary coach C. Vivian Stringer, Rutgers is second in the conference (just half a game behind Maryland) and has cemented itself in the top 25.
Maryland rattled off three straight wins before falling to Michigan State on Jan. 17, but that loss has energized the Terps and led to a six-game winning streak, all of which have essentially been blowouts. The Terrapins have fallen to No. 10 in the rankings, but they likely control their own destiny for a top-eight overall NCAA Tournament seed.
Three things to watch
1. Can Maryland control the paint? Last time out, Rutgers not only outrebounded the Terrapins, its defense completely clamped down on Maryland’s forwards.
“They do a great job with collapsing in the post and doubling,” Frese said of the Scarlet Knights’ defense. “For us, it’s just being patient and working the ball until we get those opportunities to be able to establish them.”
Stephanie Jones has been an X-factor thus far for Maryland, as the offense (and team) works best when she’s scoring inside. She scored seven points on just four field goal attempts last time, and she’ll need to be utilized more often if Maryland is to win.
2. Does fatigue play a factor? Rutgers’ last game was against Minnesota in Minneapolis on Sunday, and it was a surprising loss for the Scarlet Knights, as the Golden Gophers are in the bottom half of the Big Ten standings. Maryland, meanwhile, has played two games since then, winning against Illinois on Monday before knocking off Northwestern just two days ago. The Terrapins have gotten a boost from playing with increased energy lately, but they could potentially tire out early in New Jersey.
3. Can Maryland control the pace? On the season, Rutgers averages 66.5 possessions per 40 minutes. That figure ranks 323rd in the country out of 351 teams, and it places the Scarlet Knights 13th in the Big Ten. Maryland’s recent success has been in large part due to increased energy and a solid transition game. That’s why the Terrapins need to play their brand of basketball, even on the road.
“We have to dictate,” Charles said. “We have to make sure that we’re playing Maryland basketball and not letting them run the game. We know that It’s going to be a tough environment, so we need to bring our own energy and have each other’s backs.”