For the fourth time in five years, Maryland women’s basketball has won the Big Ten regular-season championship.
The Terrapins already had a share of the conference title locked up entering the final day of the regular season, but with a 71-62 win over Illinois on Saturday, the crown is theirs and theirs alone.
It may have been senior day at the Xfinity Center, but Maryland’s two standout freshman were the leaders against the Illini. Taylor Mikesell paced the team in scoring with 20 points on 4-of-9 shooting from beyond the arc and 8-of-8 on free-throw attempts. And with Brianna Fraser sidelined, Shakira Austin was crucial inside for the Terps. The freshman center scored 13 points despite a 4-of-14 performance from the field, making five of her seven free-throw attempts to go along with nine rebounds—four offensive—with four blocks.
Another day, another strong showing from junior forward Stephanie Jones. She scored 14 points on an efficient 6-of-11 shooting from the field. She also added nine rebounds, helping the Terps dominate on the glass early. Blair Watson was also crucial for Maryland, scoring 12 points thanks to a 4-of-6 shooting performance from deep.
Maryland was uncharacteristically inefficient from the floor, though it didn’t end up factoring into the outcome of the game. The Terrapins made just 39.3 percent of their field goals, which allowed the Illini to stick around longer than they probably should have.
Maryland trailed for just 70 seconds on Saturday, and that was due to a hot start in the first quarter. After Illinois took a 7-6 lead at the 6:33 mark, the Terps immediately scored six straight to take the lead, and they never trailed again. The team made just seven of its 18 first-quarter shots, but seven offensive rebounds and 5-of-6 shooting from the free-throw line allowed Maryland to take a 22-14 lead after 10 minutes of play.
But in the second quarter, Illinois found its groove. While its shooting stayed remarkably consistent—the Illini made 6-of-16 from the floor in both quarters—the defense locked up and the offense was able to grab points at the free-throw line. Maryland was able to score just 15 points in the period after shooting 37.5 percent from the floor, which allowed the Illini to cut the score to 37-33 at halftime.
Alex Wittinger gave the Illini a quick start to the second half, scoring six points in the first four minutes while Maryland’s offense struggled. Her midrange jumper at the 6:07 mark tied the score at 39, but after Brenda Frese called timeout, the Terrapins went on run.
On the very next possession, Mikesell drilled yet another three-pointer, and the team began to pull away. Leading 43-42 with four minutes to go, the Terrapins closed the period on an 11-2 run, which finished with a Watson triple with just seconds remaining on the game clock.
In the fourth quarter, Maryland did what it does best—pull away late. When Ali Andrews’ impressive three-point shooting cut the Illinois’ deficit to 58-52 with 3:32 to go, the Terrapins converted from the free-throw line time and time again to end the game and clinch the title.
Three things to know
1. The Terps are conference champs again. After beating Purdue on Monday night, Maryland had already locked up a share of the Big Ten regular-season title with Iowa. But with the win on Saturday, the Terrapins are now alone at the top of the conference standings, and they have won their fourth title in the first five years of being in the Big Ten.
2. The three-point shooting was tremendous. Taylor Mikesell did what she’s done all season long, and that’s drilling bombs from beyond the arc. She made four triples in nine attempts, helping her lead the team in scoring. But Blair Watson was also tremendous from long range, nailing 4-of-6 three-pointers to give the Terps a cushion late.
3. Time for the Big Ten tournament. Maryland’s regular season is over, and the team has finished with a 15-3 conference record and 26-3 mark overall. And while that’s all well and good, it doesn’t matter anymore. The Terrapins have a new number: No. 1. They will be the top seed in the conference tournament scheduled for next weekend, and they’ll play in the noon ET time slot on Friday. There, the Terps will face the winner of the No. 8/No. 9 game, which takes place on Thursday at noon ET. Both games will be televised on the Big Ten Network.