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Maryland women’s basketball vs. Iowa Big Ten championship preview

The Terps will battle the Hawkeyes for a chance to take back the conference tournament title.

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

For the fifth straight year, Maryland women’s basketball has earned a berth in the Big Ten tournament championship game.

The Terrapins were selected as favorites to win the Big Ten in the conference’s preseason poll, and they did just that after finishing the regular season title with a 15-3 record. With the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament, the Terps took care of business against No. 9-seed Michigan State and No. 4-seed Michigan (despite a tight ending) to get back to the title game.

There, they’ll face off against No. 2-seed Iowa, led by superstar center and nation’s leading scorer Megan Gustafson. The Hawkeyes are one of just three teams to defeat Maryland this season, winning in Iowa City back in mid-February.

Game information

Sunday, March 10, 6 p.m. ET, Bankers Life Field House, Indianapolis


Streaming: WatchESPN

How did they get here?

No. 1-seed Maryland (28-3, 15-3 Big Ten)

After getting through the non-conference slate with an undefeated 11-0 record, the Terps saw teams like Rutgers, Michigan State and Iowa get the best of them in Big Ten play. However, Maryland took care of business in the rest of the conference slate, staving off a threatening Hawkeyes team late in the year to finish at the top of the standings without any company.

Maryland got a double bye in the Big Ten tournament, and it didn’t have to play until Friday afternoon. And despite facing a team it lost to by 17 points earlier in the season in Michigan State, the Terrapins dominated. Led by Kaila Charles’ 21 points—including 14 in the third quarter—they jumped out to a 25-point lead late in the game and eventually won 71-55.

While a blowout victory gave the Terps a leg up over a Michigan team that survived a double-overtime scare against Wisconsin on Friday, Saturday’s Big Ten semifinal game was a nail-biter. Maryland led by as much as nine in the fourth quarter, but the Wolverines were able to jump ahead with 20 seconds remaining. It took a pair of clutch Charles free throws and a last-second Shakira Austin block to clinch the win.

No. 2-seed Iowa (25-6, 14-4 Big Ten)

Iowa was a solid 11-2 through nonconference play, but it lacked a signature win to prove its mettle. Then after a 2-2 start to the Big Ten schedule, the Hawkeyes exploded thanks to the play of Megan Gustafson, the nation’s leading scorer. They rattled off 12 wins in the last 14 games of the regular season, earning notable victories over Maryland and Rutgers.

As the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten tournament, Iowa had the benefit of a double bye just like the Terrapins. In their first postseason game on Friday, the Hawkeyes drew No. 10-seed Indiana, who was actually the team to keep them from winning a share of the conference title. But despite that loss, Iowa was able to pull away in the fourth quarter to a 60-51 victory.

Surprisingly, No. 3-seed Rutgers put up much less of a fight against Iowa on Saturday, at least through 30 minutes of play. Led by Gustafson’s 20 points and 12 rebounds, the Hawkeyes were able to balloon their lead to 20 points late in the third quarter. An incredible Scarlet Knights run cut the lead to three late, but Iowa eventually held on for a 72-67 win.

What happened last time

Feb. 17 — Iowa 86, Maryland 73

Following a loss to Michigan State exactly one month prior, Maryland entered the Sunday game against Iowa in Iowa City on an eight-game winning streak that included a victory over Rutgers to jump into first place in the Big Ten. Iowa came in on a four-game run of its own to be one game back in the standings.

Iowa jumped out to a quick lead in the first quarter, but Maryland fought back to tie it at halftime. In the second half, Gustafson showed why she’s one of the best players in the country. The senior center scored 31 points on the day with 17 rebounds—including 24 points and 12 boards after the break—to outscore the Terps 53-40 in the second half.

Maryland, on the other hand, got zero contribution from its star player. Charles scored just two points on 1-of-13 shooting with three turnovers and five fouls. Stephanie Jones, Taylor Mikesell and Blair Watson did all they could, combining for 48 points by themselves. But late in the game, the Terrapins needed their best player to step up. She didn’t.

Three things to watch

1. Can Megan Gustafson be contained? Against Maryland the first time around, Gustafson single-handedly carried the Hawkeyes to victory. She scored 31 points and added 17 rebounds while going a near-perfect 11-of-12 from the free throw line. The scary thing is, that’s essentially a normal day at the office for her. The senior center averages 27.7 points per game, tops in the nation, and 13.4 rebounds per game, which ranks third.

2. Will Kaila Charles keep it going? After that horrid performance against Iowa, Charles has been nothing short of spectacular to lead the Terps to a regular-season title and the championship game. Over the past five games, she has averaged 19.6 points (23 excluding a blowout win over Illinois to end the season) and had game-winning points against Minnesota and Michigan with 10 seconds or fewer remaining.

3. Where does the winner wind up? At this point of the year, Maryland and Iowa are locked into top-3 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. In the selection committee’s latest reveal, the Hawkeyes received the No. 8 overall seed and the Terrapins got No. 10. If Iowa is to win on Sunday, it’ll be a No. 2 seed in the big dance and Maryland will be a No. 3. But if the Terps pull off the win, they could either jump ahead of the Hawkeyes or stay stuck as a No. 3.