For No. 10 Maryland women’s basketball, the journey to a 16th-straight 20-win season has been interesting to say the least.
The Terps suffered four losses — including two games to teams that currently sit in the top-four — but their Jan. 9 trip to Carver-Hawkeye Arena resulted in a fourth loss on the season and proved to be a huge turning point.
Since that matchup, Maryland is riding high on a nine-game win streak and has kept pace with the surging Hawkeyes atop the Big Ten standings. With both teams sitting at 20-4, 11-2, Thursday’s matchup will be for sole possession of first place.
“I mean, it reminds me back when we played in the ACC,” Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said of the Big Ten talent level. “Now to be able to see the second highest RPI conference in the country, I love it. As a competitor you love these kind of games. You want to be playing for something. To be this late in the season and not have it determined, I think that’s a great thing.”
Tipoff between the Terps and Hawkeyes is set for 6 p.m. in College Park and will be broadcasted on the Big Ten Network.
Here is the preview from the first time the two teams met.
What happened last time
The Terps went on the road and fell behind early, as the Hawkeyes held a 26-20 lead after one quarter and added on for a 39-30 advantage at halftime.
Maryland responded in the third quarter by using a 12-2 run to cut Iowa’s lead to only two. But it wasn’t enough as the Hawkeys ultimately came out victorious with a 66-61 win and remained undefeated at home.
Senior Kaila Charles led the way with 23 points, while Shakira Austin (11) was the only other Maryland player in double figures.
Iowa also forced 22 Maryland turnovers and the Terps were called for 21 fouls on the road, creating a big discrepancy at the free throw line.
Maryland shot 5-of-13 for a mark of 38.5 percent, while Iowa made 18-of-22 free-throws — good for 81.8 percent — including going 8-for-10 in the first quarter.
What has happened since
It has been well-documented that Maryland turned things around after the Iowa loss, becoming what has been consistently dubbed a “player-led” team.
A players-only film session allowed for the Terps to open up lines of communication and reinvigorate the team.
Since the loss, Maryland has won nine games in a row — including four against ranked opponents — and ascended back into the top-10 for the first time since Dec. 8.
Iowa has been the team to beat however, posting a 10-1 record since the start of 2020.
The lone loss came against Michigan on Feb. 2, which put the Terps and Hawkeyes back on the same pace atop the Big Ten standings.
With just five games left, this matchup could be critical for who wins the Big Ten regular season title and gets the top seed in the Big Ten Tournament.
Three things to watch
1. Can Maryland continue communicating well? Iowa jumped out early on the Terps and was able to maintain that lead due to strong offense. Maryland did not make the most of its chances on the road — scoring just 15 points off 23 turnovers — so being keyed in defensively and communicating will be key to a strong performance.
“They’re very good team,” freshman Ashley Owusu said. “One thing they do well is moving and cutting without the ball. So I think if we’re just locked in defensively and jumping to the ball with one pass, I think we’ll be fine.”
2. Will the player-led Terps get revenge? Maryland has lost its last three games against Iowa, but will be hosting the Hawkeyes for the first time since Jan. 4, 2018. The Terps have clearly improved each game throughout this nine-game win streak and will have a chance to finally move past Iowa and break through heading into the postseason.
“Leading into this game, it’s going to be a big statement for us,” senior Stephanie Jones said. “[A win would] build our confidence going into the rest of the season and going into postseason.”
3. Will Kaila Charles continue to lead by example? Last time out against Iowa, Charles led the team with 23 points — one of just two Terps in double figures. Maryland has since found its groove as a whole since that five-point loss, and Charles has played phenomenally as well. She is averaging 15.5 points per game over this stretch and has routinely been a factor in big games.
“I’m just being patient and just making the right reads off of what the defense is giving me,” Charles said. “That just comes with doing film with my coaches, understanding where I can make the right reads and when to take a shot when to make a pass. And so, I’m just being more patient on the floor.”