No. 20 Maryland women’s basketball returns to College Park for a two-game homestand, starting with a matchup against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Losing to Iowa was caused by a slow start and poor shooting — two things that quickly got turned around on Sunday.
Against Michigan, the Terps simply bounced back in all facets of the game. Behind 35 points from freshmen Ashley Owusu, Diamond Miller and Faith Masonius and a 10-of-21 effort from long-range — including six threes from Blair Watson — Maryland rushed out to an early lead and only kept building onto it late.
Since Big Ten play started, Maryland has sported a 3-2 record — and continues to look for a true break through.
“[Nebraska is] a veteran-like team,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “They’re all juniors and seniors, so for us it’s about playing with the same amount of energy. We have to have our freshmen ready to come play. Our seniors are doing a great job of leading, but we’ve got to have everybody be able to contribute.”
Thursday’s tipoff is set for 8 p.m. and will be broadcasted on the Big Ten Network.
Nebraska Cornhuskers (13-3, 3-2)
Head coach Amy Williams is in her fourth season at the helm in Lincoln and has had an up-and-down tenure thus far. In her first season, Nebraska went a lowly 7-22 with just three conference wins. In 2017-18, however, Williams earned Big Ten Coach of the Year honors after turning the Huskers around to a 21-11 program with 11 conference wins and an NCAA Tournament bid.
Struggles returned last season, though, as Nebraska finished 14-16 with a 9-9 Big Ten record, but early indications from this season show that more good could be in store.
Three players to know
Junior center Kate Cain (No. 31) is the main threat inside for the Cornhuskers. Standing at 6’5, Cain averages 10.1 points and a team-high 7.7 rebounds in 25.9 minutes per game.
She provides Nebraska with height inside to compete with Shakira Austin and Stephanie Jones, so it will take an all-around effort to cancel Cain out.
Senior guard Nicea Eliely (No. 5) could be a big piece to the puzzle as Nebraska hopes to match the Terps across the board. Standing at 6’1, Eliely has good size at the guard position and will provide an even matchup with Owusu.
Eliely averages 8.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. She’s also tallied 17 steals and 13 blocks, so her play on the defensive end will likely be a factor.
Sophomore forward Leigha Brown (No. 32) is a unique player as she has not started a game yet this season, but leads Nebraska with 13.4 points per game. Coming off the bench, Brown provides some size at 6’1, but plays with speed and skill. Maryland will need to have a strong rotation to keep the defensive end fresh and likely make its shots to keep up.
“Her game is so versatile,” Maryland wing Blair Watson said. “She can do whatever she wants to do. She’s going to pull up. She’s going to go to the basket. If she gets her own rebound, she’s going right back up with it. So I think boxing her early and making sure we’re making her take tough twos, making her take really tough layups at the basket and then also make sure we’re keeping her off the glass so she can’t get those [offensive rebounds] and put-backs.”
Blocks. As a team, Nebraska ranks seventh in the nation with 91 blocks so far this season, as well as 11th in blocks per game with an average of 5.7. Cain is an integral part of those rankings — with 47 blocks to her name thus far — with support from 6’1 guard Nicea Eliely who has 13 blocks. There’s height across the board on both sides, so this game could be won with a block party.
Turnovers. The Cornhuskers come into Thursday’s game with a near-even split in turnovers — turning the ball over 225 times and forcing 223 turnovers. The tough part for Nebraska comes in its passing, as opponents have generated 119 steals. Maryland has tallied 223 steals as a team — good for 13.9 steals per game — and could exploit bad passing for easy transition buckets.
Three things to watch
1. Can the Terps break down Nebraska? The Cornhuskers come into Thursday’s game at the top of the Big Ten — and for good reason. Six players on the roster are juniors or seniors, so they know how to play their game and what it takes to win.
“They’re really sound in what they do and they’re going to do what they want to do,” Watson said. “But I think at the end of the day we just need to keep running the tempo, keep pushing our game, making sure that we don’t get in those lulls where we’re kind of tired and slowed down, but make sure we’re keeping our pace, running our transition and doing what we do.”
Being able to flaunt the full-court press while also making plays in the half-court will be critical as the team will rely on its defense to generate easier offensive chances.
2. How will the Maryland freshmen grow moving forward? The Terps were able to blow past Michigan Sunday thanks to 35 points from its freshmen trio, but the length of the college season — including the added minutes Miller and Owusu have had to put in — could potentially become a factor.
“Being ready when your number is called [is the biggest challenge],” Owusu said. “It doesn’t matter. Basketball doesn’t care about age. You just have to go out and play when your number is called.”
Owusu has taken the brunt of this season, as the losses of Channise Lewis and Zoe Young have left the point guard position bare. Maryland has not hidden from its young identity or used it as an excuse as the ups and downs have comes around.
“They’re talented,” Frese said. “Our young kids are so talented. But five of our nine are freshmen and sophomores. So now it’s about developing the consistency, and that’s the thing we’re hoping for, we’re looking for.”
3. Can Maryland handle a tougher Big Ten slate? The 2019-20 Big Ten women’s basketball season has been a wild one, with just one team (Penn State) having an overall record below .500. Eleven of the 14 conference teams have at least 10 wins and there is a four-way tie atop the standings at 4-1 in Big Ten play between Northwestern, Rutgers, Indiana and Iowa.
“It’s really, really hard. It’s exciting,” Frese said. “It’s going to prepare us for March, like I told our team yesterday, I think seven of out next nine are all top-six in the league. Everybody came in with winning non-conference schedules. It’s really a lot of fun.”
While the competition is fun, it makes for tough tasks night in and night out. For Maryland, the key has been to not look backwards or harp on the downs, but to pay attention to itself and what’s next.
“The biggest message I got from [coach Frese] was ‘move on,’” Owusu said of the loss to Iowa. “We can’t get stuck in one place or looking back on one game. We just got to look forward and play our game.”