Maryland women’s basketball entered the Big Ten tournament as the top seed in the field, but on Championship Sunday, the Terrapins couldn’t overcome Megan Gustafson and No. 2-seed Iowa, losing 90-76 in Indianapolis.
Iowa led most of the way, and although the Terps made a run early in the third quarter to tie the score, the Hawkeyes pulled away. They opened up a nine-point lead entering the fourth quarter and eventually converting down the stretch for a 14-point victory.
Gustafson was the edge Iowa needed to defeat the Terps the first time around, scoring 31 points to (briefly) catch up in the conference standings. On Sunday, she blew that performance out of the water, scoring 45 points on 17-of-24 shooting while going 11-of-14 from the free-throw line. Her first half alone would have been enough for most players’ career nights, as she went into the break with 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting.
Kaila Charles picked quite a time to put in her best performance of the season, single-handedly willing the Terrapins to tie the score early in the second half. The junior forward dominated from the start, scoring 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting in the first half to keep Maryland within striking distance. And despite the team’s derailment down the stretch, she finished with a career-high 36 points and grabbed nine rebounds. No one else on the Terrapins scored in double figures.
Fans of whistles had a blast on Sunday, as the referees completely dominated the game on both ends of the court. By the time the final buzzer sounded, a stunning 42 combined fouls were called, 26 of which were called on the Terrapins compared to 16 on Iowa. That led to a 25-of-30 shooting performance from the free-throw line for the Hawkeyes, while the Terps made 13-of-17. Olivia Owens, a seldom-used freshman center, fouled out in the third quarter after scoring four points in six minutes.
Maryland started the game off extremely well, jumping out to a 7-2 lead just over a minute into the action. But then Gustafson took over, scoring six points in the first three minutes and jump-starting a 15-0 Hawkeyes run that included a pair of three-pointers to give them a 10-point advantage with five minutes to go in the first quarter. Iowa’s lead was 25-15 after one.
Iowa’s strong shooting continued early in the second quarter. Thanks to a pair of three-pointers and Gustafson’s free-throw shooting, the team extended its lead to 14 with eight minutes to go in the half. But then Charles came alive. She scored eight straight Maryland points, the latter four of which were part of a 8-0 run to cut the deficit to six points just over a minute later. After a lot of basket-trading, Iowa took a 51-45 into the break.
A pair of Gustafson free throws put Iowa up by eight to start the third quarter, but Charles led the Terrapins on a run to tie the score at the 7:21 mark. With the Hawkeyes leading just 59-58 with a little over four minutes to play, though, they closed the period on a 10-2 run led by Gustafson’s six points to take a nine-point lead into the fourth quarter.
Just as it did less than a month ago, Iowa used the final 10 minutes of play to assert their dominance and pull away, making a once-close game a blowout. A 10-3 Hawkeyes lead kicked off the period thanks to seven points from Gustafson, who just could not be stopped whatsoever.
Three things to know
1. Kaila Charles was phenomenal. The junior wing leads Maryland in scoring this season, and on Sunday, she was downright terrific. Charles poured in career-high 36 points on 15-of-30 shooting, including 6-of-7 from the free throw line. She also added nine rebounds, but five turnovers came at a detriment. However, she was the only player to show up for the Terrapins, and the giveaways are a consequence of having to do everything by herself.
2. But Megan Gustafson was better. Megan Gustafson leads the nation in scoring with 27.7 points per game, and the first time around against Maryland, she scored 31 to lead the Hawkeyes to victory. On championship Sunday, she scoffed at those numbers. Gustafson finished with an astounding 45 points on 17-of-24 shooting from the field, 11-of-14 shooting from the free-throw line, and she added 10 rebounds for good measure.
3. Now it’s time to rest. With a ton of mid-major conferences having their tournaments this upcoming week, the NCAA Tournament Selection Show will not come until Monday, March 18. There, the entire field of 64 teams will be announced, and Maryland will most likely receive a No. 3 seed. The only question is which region the Terrapins will be in, and that will dictate whether they begin play on Friday, March 22 or Saturday, March 23.