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No. 14 Maryland women’s basketball vs. Penn State preview

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After 12 days between games, the Terps will look to keep their high-powered offense rolling against the Lady Lions.

Photo courtesy of Maryland women’s basketball

No. 14 Maryland women’s basketball (5-1) last played against James Madison in a dominant 101-59 win at home all the way back on Dec. 19th.

After having their Dec. 23 game against Ohio State cancelled due to COVID-19 complications in the Buckeyes’ program, the Terps will take on their second Big Ten opponent of the season in Penn State after 12 days between gameplay.

“We’ve had a terrific break, you know, for our players to be able to go home and kind of hit the refresh button home for the holidays,” Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said. “They did a great job staying in shape, had about seven days off where we left the ownership to them and they did a phenomenal job coming back ready to go.”

Maryland won its sole Big Ten matchup, coming against Rutgers in what was a tight four-point victory on the road. The Terps’ win against the Scarlet Knights was the only other road win for Maryland that didn’t come from tournament play this season.

Now, Maryland will travel to face Penn State on Dec. 31 in what will be an exciting matchup to close out 2020. The game tips off on Big Ten Network at noon. Let’s take a look at what’s in store for Thursday’s matchup.

Penn State Lady Lions (3-2, 0-1 Big Ten)

2019 record: 7-23 (1-17 Big Ten)

Head coach Carolyn Kieger was named the sixth head coach of the Penn State women’s basketball program in April 2019. Before becoming the head coach for the Lady Lions, Kieger led the Marquette Golden Eagles to a pair of Big East regular season championships, along with a Big East Tournament title. Kieger’s last three seasons at Marquette saw the Golden Eagles reach an impressive 76-26 record.

In her first season at the helm at Penn State, Kieger coached the Lady Lions to just seven wins in what was a rough season, in which the team finished last in the Big Ten and amassed just one conference victory to start the 2020 campaign, Kieger and the Lady Lions have nearly totaled half of their wins from last season just five games in.

Players to know

Kelly Jekot, graduate student guard, 6’1, No. 25 - Jekot has started all five games for Penn State this season and will be all over the floor when the Terps come to town. The serviceable guard has played the most minutes on the floor for the Lady Lions and averages the most points per game on the team with 14.6.

Jekot has yet to score under double-digits in a game this season and also averages the most amount of rebounds on the team with nearly seven per contest. Maryland will look to slow down Jekot on offense as she is one of the main focal points for this Penn State team.

Makenna Marisa, sophomore guard, 5’11, No. 20 - Marisa may not be the most effective guard when it comes to scoring, but the sophomore is easily the best distributor on this Penn State roster, which makes her a dangerous commodity.

She has started every game this season, while averaging the second most minutes on the floor for Kieger’s squad. Through five games, Marisa has totaled 29 assists, which is good enough for an average of nearly six per game. The next highest assist total on Penn State is from Jekot, who has only accumulated nine. Marisa is an offensive leader and will look to distribute the ball effectively if Penn State wants any chance to upset Maryland.

Tova Sabel, freshman guard, 5’10, No. 10 - Despite being in just her first season at Penn State, Sabel has turned into an effective player for the Lady Lions early on. She will be a solid player coming off the bench for Penn State against Maryland, as she is one of the most efficient players on the roster.

Through five games, Sabel has shot nearly 56% from the field while shooting 53.8% from three-point range with a 7-for-13 clip from behind the arc. Sabel isn’t receiving starter minutes just yet, but if she is able to continue her excellent efficiency, she might see more minutes against a high-scoring Terps team.

Strength

Defending three-pointers. Maryland has averaged around 11 threes per game against its opponents this season, but the Terps will have to work hard to achieve that total against the Lady Lions. Penn State allows just 6.6 threes per game to its opponents, while holding its opposition to a dismal 25.8% clip from long-range. Penn State will look to stunt Maryland’s three-point game, as the Terps are shooting a brilliant 45.1% from behind the arc.

“We just have to take what the defense gives us,” senior Katie Benzan said. “We are just focusing on what we can do best and just taking Penn State’s strengths away from them and we’ll just see how the game goes. If the ball isn’t falling for us then we’ll go to our next option.”

Weakness

Free throws. Penn State is certainly not the most efficient team from the charity stripe and it would be wise for Maryland to test its opponent’s free throw ability on Thursday. Five games into the 2020 season, Penn State is shooting just 67% from the free-throw line, hitting just 59 of 88 shots there. If the Lady Lions want an opportunity to pull off the upset at home, it starts from getting points at the free throw line.

Three things to watch

1. Will Maryland be able to survive another slow start? Against the James Madison Dukes, Maryland struggled in the first quarter with just 16 total points. The Terps shot just 31.8% from the field in the opening frame, while connecting on just one three-pointer on five attempts. Maryland was lucky to be facing a weaker opponent in James Madison, but it won’t be afforded that kind of help from the opposition when the program takes on Penn State.

“I think just focusing on the scout and doing what we need to do and just staying locked in on just the little things that the coaches have prepared us for this game,” sophomore Faith Masonius said on how the Terps will handle the Lady Lions.

In a talented Big Ten, it can be easy to give away games from slow starts like the one that the Terps had against the Dukes. It’ll be in Maryland’s best interests to come out of the gates swinging against an up-and-coming Lady Lions team.

2. Will Zoe Young see more time on the floor? Young made her highly-anticipated debut for Maryland against James Madison, as she saw 10 minutes on the floor in her first game as a Terp. The former No. 9 ranked guard shot 1-for-3 for two points, but there is plenty of more potential in her game after spending last season on the sidelines due to injury. However, Frese still believes that Young has a long way to go before she is at full strength.

“Zoe still isn’t in high-level shape, to be quite honest,” Frese said. “We’re fortunate to kind of get over the mental block for her. I thought she did a tremendous job against JMU, so I was really happy for her to get those minutes. But, right now she’s not in the kind of shape even in practice to compete in a high-level game.”

It’ll be interesting to see if Frese deploys Young on the court with more minutes to gain more experience in actual competition. The 5-foot-10 redshirt freshman will eventually be an integral piece of this Maryland roster and it’s only a matter of time before she is unleashed for the Terps.

3. Can the Terps continue their success with fast-break points? In the first quarter against James Madison, where Maryland ended the frame trailing by three, the Terps totaled zero points on the fast-break in what was a fairly inefficient quarter of play for Frese’s squad. However, when Maryland began to turn it around, the fast break points started to shoot upward. The team scored 24 points on the fast break throughout the rest of the game in what ended up being a dominant outing at home.

The Terps are at their best offensively when they are pushing the pace against their opponent, and it was evident in the second half against James Madison. Look out for Maryland’s offensive pace when it takes on Penn State after a long rest.