With 29 seconds remaining in the first quarter of action, No. 20 Maryland women’s basketball held a six-point lead over No. 22 Northwestern with avenging its 81-58 loss a month ago in its sights.
But as sophomore forward Shakira Austin went up for a rebound, she fell to the hardwood gripping her ankle. She eventually had to be helped off the floor by the team’s training staff, forcing the Terps to have to go the rest of the way without their primary inside presence.
Despite losing their best post player, the Terps were able to hold off the conference-leading Wildcats on Sunday afternoon, winning 70-61 to improve to 16-4 on the season.
“Just a fun game,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “We really wanted to come out and punch first and set the tone.”
The Terps came out of the gate firing on all cylinders offensively, not allowing the Wildcats to get out to an early lead such as they did the last time the two teams squared off. Maryland’s first offensive possession resulted in a three-pointer finding bottom for senior guard Blair Watson, a welcome sight in lieu of her shooting struggles as of late.
Sophomore guard Taylor Mikesell, who has had her share of shooting woes herself, also knocked down her first triple of the game, setting the tone for the outside shooting performance both Mikesell and Watson enjoyed in this one.
An experienced Northwestern squad wasn’t going to collapse that quickly, though, despite playing in a tough road environment, keeping pace with Maryland after the first ten minutes of action to trail by just six at the conclusion of the first quarter.
But the Terps suffered Austin’s loss with just seconds remaining the period, as she left the floor with an alleged ankle injury was and listed as “doubtful” from that point on.
The Wildcats went on to battle back to even the score by the 7:06 mark of the second quarter, taking advantage of Austin’s absence to attack at the rim. Head coach Brenda Frese had no choice but to go small after Austin’s injury, turning to the forwards Faith Masonius and Stephanie Jones to try to counter Northwestern’s 6’4 forward in Abbie Wolf.
“I just knew that we really had to pick it up for [Austin],” Jones said. “She does a lot down low, like getting rebounds, scoring so I knew that just me and Kaila, Faith, anybody down low, the whole team really had to pitch in.”
Northwestern went on to outscore Maryland 19-10 in the period, while the Terps failed to score a field goal for the final 3:22 of the half to go into the break trailing the Wildcats 30-27.
Jones did all she could to carry the load for Austin into the second half, scoring six points in the third quarter while fighting for three offensive rebounds to keep the Terps within striking distance. Maryland began to build momentum for a late push as the quarter wore on, turning defense into offense once again to build a lead.
With 2:53 remaining in the third quarter, freshman guard Ashley Owusu read a pass coming from a Northwestern guard to come up with the steal. With Mikesell leaking down the court, Owusu tip-toed the sideline before launching it down court to Mikesell for an easy lay-in, stretching Maryland’s lead to five after trailing for most of the quarter — and was part of a 12-1 run to end the third frame.
The Wildcats began to battle back as the fourth quarter got underway, playing through tWolf to try and test the defensive mettle of Maryland’s makeshift front court. But Masonius proved up to the challenge, scoring seven points in her six minute shift to give Maryland massive minutes off the bench and earn a strong ovation from the Terp faithful as she left the floor.
Northwestern made consistent pushes to try and draw back even, but Blair Watson’s third three-pointer of the game with 1:45 remaining pushed Maryland’s lead to eight points, completing the Terps’ revenge win over the Wildcats.
Three Things to Know
1. Veronica Burton and Lindsey Pulliam were mostly held in check. After combining for 47 of Northwestern’s 81 points the last time these two teams played, Maryland did a much better job at slowing down the Wildcats’ dynamic backcourt duo. The two combined for just 34 points in today’s contest on 11-for-31 shooting from the field, as the Terps showed an improved defensive approach to guarding the talented combo.
“We wanted to have somebody else beat us,” Mikesell said of the defensive strategy centered on stopping Burton and Pulliam. “We were just trying to heat them up and pressure them and just play Maryland defense.”
2. Faith Masonius put in another solid performance. The sophomore put in a strong shift for the Terps in their Thursday night win over Illinois, and it appears she’s beginning to earn the trust of Brenda Frese and the coaching staff. Though her play won’t show in the box score, she showed a level of comfort that helped Maryland’s front court stay afloat despite Austin’s injury and close out the game in critical stretches.
“I thought Faith was sensational off the bench” Frese said. “Her timing was right with some of those plays we needed in the first half I thought she got some of our offense going and again just a high-level player making plays for us.”
3. The Big Ten standings are taking shape. With a win today, Maryland helped pull itself even with Northwestern at 7-2 in Big Ten play — and a loss by Iowa (7-1) against Michigan State this afternoon would create a three-way tie atop the conference standings.
“It’s awesome,” Frese said of the competition at the top of the conference. “When you talk about every game you play you’re gonna be challenged, you’re gonna be battle-tested ... these great teams, they’re very veteran-led, there’s a lot of junior-senior guard play and veteran teams like Northwestern so they’re gonna make you better every time you step out on the floor.”