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No. 20 Maryland women’s basketball vs Illinois preview

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The Terps travel to Champaign to take on the Fighting Illini.

Indiana v Maryland Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Riding a three-game winning streak in which it has out-scored its opponents by an average of 20 points, No. 20 Maryland women’s basketball will take to the road once again to face Illinois Thursday night.

Following a mediocre 2-2 start to conference play, the Terps’ latest run of wins has elevated them to a tie for second in the Big Ten, behind only Northwestern and Iowa. Meanwhile, their opponent sits at the bottom of the conference after seven games, with the Fighting Illini winning just one game compared to six losses to tie for last place.

Maryland has been dominant in nearly every performance against Illinois in the program series, winning all 10 of its matchups with the Illini dating back to 1982. And it hasn’t been particularly close under head coach Brenda Frese, winning each game by an average margin of 19.1 points.

The game is set to tip off Thursday at 8 p.m. ET, and will be streamed on BTN+.

Illinois Fighting Illini (10-8, 1-6 Big Ten)

Head coach Nancy Fahey is in just her third season as head coach of the Fighting Illini, but has yet to experience as much success as she had in previous stints. Despite having over 30+ years of head coaching experience and being the fastest coach to reach 600 wins in NCAA women’s basketball history, she’s only managed a 29-50 record and an abysmal 3-38 record in Big Ten play.

Players to Know

Redshirt junior guard Petra Holešínská (No. 13) paces the Illini in scoring this season after missing the entire 2018-19 season due to injury, averaging 14.3 points per contest on 41.5 percent shooting from the field. A threat to score from beyond the arc as well, Holešínská is shooting 43.2 percent from three-point land in 2019-20 — a mark which ranks 22nd in all of Division I.

Freshman forward Kennedi Myles (No. 44) has been a strong front-court addition for Fahey in her first season with the Illini, trailing just Holešínská for the team lead in points per game with 10.2. She’s struggled with her efficiency from the field (38.4 percent from the field) and from the free-throw line (49.2 percent), but her 9.0 rebounds per game make her a formidable presence on the low-block.

Senior forward Ali Andrews (No. 50) is the more experienced half of Fahey’s front-court pairing, with this being her fourth and final season receiving consistent playing time with the Illini. She’s taken a bit of a backseat to the freshman phenom in Myles, but in her 23 minutes per game, she’s still managed 8.4 points on 47.7 percent shooting from the field this season.

Strength

Taking care of the basketball. One of the areas the Illini have been consistently strong in since Fahey took over is their discipline in regard to taking care of the ball. This season, Illinois has turned it over just 14.7 times per contest, ranking 90th in Division I in that category.

Weakness

Scoring offense. Illinois has struggled mightily to score the ball this season, failing to find consistent scoring options outside of the three players mentioned above. The Illini are averaging just 64.9 points per game this season on 38.7 percent shooting, figures that rank 185th and 229th, respectively, in regard to all of Division I. Look for Maryland’s defense to try to get to a struggling Illinois unit early and often.

Three Things to Watch

1. Can the Terps keep their winning streak? A win on Thursday night would make four in a row for Maryland, two off of its season-best for 2019-20. A victory could also push the Terps to the top of the conference depending on how Iowa and Northwestern fare in each of its respective games.

2. Will the Terps own the paint again? In each of Maryland’s previous two wins over Nebraska and Indiana, over half of its points have come from inside the paint. A large reason why has been the play of guards Kaila Charles and Ashley Owusu, as well as forward Shakira Austin, attacking the rim with conviction. Without a true rim-protector to guard the lane, Maryland should have no problem scoring at the rim on Thursday.

3. Can Taylor Mikesell stay hot? Monday night’s win over Indiana was a much needed return to form for the sophomore sharpshooter, scoring 16 points on 4-for-5 shooting from deep after failing to surpass double digits over her previous six games. The Terps are at their best when Mikesell is hitting from deep, so having her back at her best makes Maryland just that more difficult to stop.