Looking to put its opponent away for good Thursday night, No. 20 Maryland women’s basketball searched for an opportunity to attack Nebraska in the area where it had found so much success: the paint.
With 1:31 remaining in the third quarter, sophomore forward Shakira Austin looked poised to score, but saw senior guard Kaila Charles flashing into the paint. In one motion, she spun toward the baseline and dished a one-handed pass to Charles, who collected the ball and banked it high off the glass for two.
The Terps went on to score 46 points in the paint on Thursday night, accounting for over half of their points in a 87-69 victory over Nebraska — their twelfth-straight win over the Huskers.
“I love where we’re trending,” Frese said. “I love to be at full force, and that’s where this team right now I think is trending up when you talk about on both ends of the floor.”
Charles led the way for Maryland, scoring 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting to lead all scorers in this one. Three other Terps finished in double-digits as freshman guard Ashley Owusu notched 16 points off the bench, while senior forward Stephanie Jones and freshman guard Diamond Miller each added 14 and 13, respectively.
After spending the previous week on the road, the Terps’ return to the Xfinity Center was marked by a bit of sluggish play on both ends of the floor. They started the game hitting just two out of their first eight shot attempts from the floor, while the Huskers managed to break their press with regularity to find open looks and jump out to an early 10-4 lead.
But Maryland slowly began to settle in defensively, feeding off the energy generated on that end of the floor to find a groove offensively. Following a career-high 15 points against Michigan on Sunday, Miller checked in and immediately made an impact.
She scored eight points in her first five minutes on the floor and hounded Nebraska’s ball-handlers at the top of the press. Her efforts helped the Terps rebound from a slow start and lead 26-17 after one.
“I think [the game] is slowing down,” Miller said of her string of strong performances. “Freshman year is a lot of ups and downs and I’m just gonna take it one game at a time.”
After forcing its opposition into five first quarter turnovers, Maryland continued to use the same formula of defense-into-offense to try to extend its lead. With eight minutes remaining in the second quarter, Charles blocked Husker forward Ashtyn Veerbeek’s shot from behind, which Owusu corralled to spark the fast break.
Staying in the play, Charles darted down the court to fill the lane, where Owusu hit her in stride to for the and-one layup to give the Terps an 11-point lead.
“Pushing the other team to go faster is in our alley,” Miller said. “We like to do it, so it’s fun.”
But Nebraska did not go away that easily, as two triples from senior guard Hannah Whitish helped the Huskers keep pace in the scoring column. Senior Nebraska guard Nicea Eliely, with a pair of three-pointers of her own, led all scorers at the halftime break, though Maryland took a 43-34 lead after 20 minutes.
The hot outside-shooting start that helped keep the Huskers in it began to evaporate into the second half, as a 6-for-11 three point shooting mark in the first half was followed by a 2-for-6 third quarter shooting performance. Yet it was an even worse shooting stretch by the Terps, going 0-for-4 from deep in the quarter.
Carrying just a six point lead into the final frame, the Terps looked to return to the paint, where they had found most of their success.
With 5:15 left, Owusu passed the ball off to Blair Watson on the wing, then cut hard to the basket and scored off a quick assist by the senior guard to give the Terps a 72-60 lead.
The Cornhuskers attempted one last push with four minutes remaining, forcing Miller to fumble the ball on her way to the basket, but Charles was there to clean up the loose ball, sink the second-chance basket and finish the and-one play.
With a 15-point lead in hand, the Terps were ultimately able to coast to victory down the stretch.
“I think we just picked up our energy,” Jones said of the team’s fourth quarter effort. “Coach [Frese] definitely came into the huddle and really challenged us with our energy and the fact that they were coming back that we needed to win the quarter.”
Three Things to Know
1. Maryland’s dominance of Nebraska continues. Thursday’s win now makes it 12 straight victories for the Terps over the Cornhuskers, with the all-time series sitting at 12-0 in favor of Maryland. It also marked Maryland’s seventh straight win at home, helping the Terps move to 9-1 at the Xfinity Center this season.
2. Diamond Miller impresses again. The freshman has really come on as of late for the Terps, with her energy on both ends of the floor making her one of Maryland’s most valuable bench pieces. If she can continue to improve her outside touch (she was shooting 22.2 percent from behind the arc prior to Thursday’s game), she’ll only continue to earn herself more and more time on the floor.
“I mean Diamond’s ceiling is untapped,” Frese said. “She has no idea where the ceiling is at which is pretty special ... it’s fun, her minutes are up because she’s just really playing the game the right way.”
3. The Terps continue to struggle from deep. After seeming to find their touch from deep against Michigan, Maryland shot a lowly 4-of-16 from three-point range against Nebraska. Sharpshooters Blair Watson and Taylor Mikesell combined to shoot 1-of-9 — proving that consistency is still missing from deep.