No. 17 Maryland women’s basketball has been one of the many top women’s teams struggling during the 2019-20 season, and those struggles reached a new point during the team’s 81-58 loss at Northwestern on Dec. 31.
The Terps hosted Ohio State Monday night, but after a close first quarter the team fell flat. The Buckeyes held a 42-35 lead at the half — just before Kaila Charles bursted on the scene.
Charles led all scorers with a season-high 28 points as Maryland came from behind and pulled out a 72-62 victory at home.
Here is a look at where the team stands three games into Big Ten play.
1. Defensive pressure brings the most energy to this team
Maryland opted to use predominantly zone defense against Ohio State, which was able to cause some turnovers even in the half court set, but there was more to be done.
Coming out after halftime, head coach Brenda Frese chose to suffocate the Buckeyes with the Terps’ signature full-court press, and it helped rack up 25 total turnovers — including 15 in the second half.
“It’s what gets us fueled up,” senior Blair Watson said. “Like ‘Oh, ok, we got a steal, let’s get another one’ or like ‘Let’s get a shot clock violation,’ ‘How many steals can we get out of this?’ ... I think it ultimately goes to show just how much we have each others’ backs.”
Maryland simply struggles without getting turnovers, forcing just 13 turnovers in its loss to Northwestern and 15 in its loss to South Carolina on Nov. 10.
As long as Frese picks the right time to deploy the press and throw teams off, the defense will continue leading to offense.
2. Taylor Mikesell can run the point guard position when needed
Freshman point guard Ashley Owusu has been the lead ball-handler for the Terps this season, but the lack of depth behind her has been concerning. Against the Buckeyes, Owusu was only able to play 24 minutes and was out for the final quarter after suffering what appeared to be a cramp.
Sophomore sharp-shooting guard Taylor Mikesell picked up the slack and was able to finish with seven points, six assists, five fouls drawn and four assists in 39 minutes on the court.
“The selflessness of Taylor running the point for so many minutes out there [was important],” Frese said. “When you talk about the six assists, and drawing five fouls, was huge.”
Six assists was a season-high for Mikesell, and was just one short of her career-high, which she notched twice during the 2018-19 season — including a matchup with Ohio State.
“I definitely feel a lot more comfortable,” Mikesell said. “The pace of the game isn’t as much of a shock as last year.”
Maryland will rely on Mikesell to continue picking up minutes at the point guard position with Channise Lewis and Zoe Young out for the season with knee injuries, but she has proven she can hold her own.
3. Three point shooting isn’t something to worry about
Against Ohio State, Maryland shot a season-low 8.3 percent from three-point range — going a combined 1-for-12, with Mikesell making the lone triple.
Despite shooting no better than 22.2 percent from long-range in any of the last three games, the Terps are confident that they can find ways to be successful.
“The game presents differently every night,” Frese said. “We obviously have a lot of great three-point threats, but [opponents] know Blair and Taylor can shoot the three, so they lock them down pretty hard.”
Due to Mikesell and Watson being honed in on by opposing defenses, the way forward is all about patience and not forcing the ball to them or putting up too many shots. With players that are known shooters, the task becomes setting more screens away from the ball and waiting for the right moments to shoot.
Against the Buckeyes, that moment came after a pass inside to Shakira Austin from Charles drew in Mikesell’s defender — leaving her wide open in the corner where she sank the only Terp triple.
When the offense can find other ways to be successful and other players draw attention, chances will open up more for Watson, Mikesell and other shooters to reignite the three-point range.