With 5:41 remaining in the third quarter against No. 17 Iowa, sophomore guard Taylor Mikesell used her quick hands to poke the ball free from guard Kate Martin, diving on the floor for the ball before dishing it off to freshman guard Ashley Owusu.
Owusu carried it down the floor and fed it to forward Stephanie Jones deep in the paint, who took a dribble before going up for a strong finish at the rim to extend No. 10 Maryland women’s basketball’s lead to 36 and electrify the Xfinity Center crowd.
The Terps kept the pressure on the Hawkeyes for all 40 minutes of Thursday’s contest, holding Iowa to its lowest scoring total of the season in a 93-59 win to take sole possession of first place in the Big Ten. They have now won 10 consecutive games.
“It was a very prideful game for us,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “You could see it building up to how we’ve been playing, our practices and where this team is at ... Can’t say enough about each and every one showing up to play.”
Including a whopping 15 steals, Maryland forced Iowa into a season-high 27 turnovers, which it turned into 37 points of its own.
The likes of Owusu, Taylor Mikesell and Kaila Charles hounded Iowa’s back-court early and often, pressing up on Kathleen Doyle and Makenzie Meyer all the way outside the three-point line on almost every touch.
Using fantastic on-ball defense ultimately took away the Hawkeyes’ focus from the shot-clock, resulting in two shot clock violations in the first quarter to get them out of rhythm and the Terp bench off their feet.
“It gets us hyped up,” Charles said of the early shot clock violations. “To have that in the first quarter we wanted to punch first and it starts with our defense because it leads to our offense and yeah, we needed that. We need that energy.”
Maryland went on to open up a quick 10-point lead over the de facto top team in the Big Ten, lighting up the Hawkeyes with its transition play. With 3:13 remaining the quarter, a missed shot by Iowa led to a quick run-out for Owusu. Cutting across the lane to her left and hanging in the air, she banked it off the glass and through to put the Terps up 15-6.
On the subsequent possession, another strong defensive play resulted in a missed field goal from the Hawkeyes and another fast break for Maryland, this time culminating in Diamond Miller finding Mikesell in the corner for a three-pointer to extend the Terp lead to double-digits while forcing an Iowa timeout.
A complete all-around performance on both ends of the floor in the first quarter for Maryland saw it take a 25-14 lead into the second, with the Hawkeyes looking overwhelmed by the Terps’ energy.
Defensively, Maryland refused give Iowa an inch of space to work with on seemingly every possession down the floor. Utilizing a zone defense anchored by sophomore forward Shakira Austin protecting the rim, the Terps forced 12 first half turnovers and multiple shot clock violations, with each sounding of the buzzer getting the crowd more into the game.
Iowa had no answers for the run-and-gun Terps in the first half, as Maryland went on to score 18 points off turnovers and 10 fast break points to take a 25-point lead into the break, with a 48-23 advantage after the first 20 minutes of play.
“Just the tenacity defensively,” Frese said. “We were getting to traps that I hadn’t seen us be that aggressive with and locking them down and I thought we really sent a message early in that first quarter with our defense, and you can tell we’re having a lot of fun.”
In what had been an already flat-out dominant defensive effort after the first half, senior guard Blair Watson began to take over. The Naismith Defensive Player of the Year nominee tied a program record for steals in a single game in Maryland’s loss to Iowa earlier this season with nine, and she managed to swipe five this time around in College Park.
Led by Watson, Iowa scored just two points in the first 5:30 of the second half, allowing the Terps to open up a 38-point lead over the Hawkeyes with 4:32 still remaining in the third quarter.
Maryland kept its foot on Iowa’s throat for the final four minutes of the third, forcing eleven more Hawkeye turnovers in the period to take a 74-38 lead into the final frame.
Brenda Frese opted to keep many of her stars in the game coming down the stretch in the fourth, doing so despite already holding a near-40 point advantage on the scoreboard.
But as the game clock wound down, Frese eventually emptied her bench, giving Faith Masonius and Sara Vujacic some run in the final three minutes of the game. Vujacic ended up sinking a three-pointer with 1:33 remaining, getting the entire arena back on its feet one last time in what was a dominant display of hoops at the Xfinity Center Thursday night.
Three Things to Know
1. Shakira Austin had a big game. Facing two of the top forwards in the conference in Amanda Ollinger and Monika Czinano, Austin certainly had her work cut out for her coming into this one.
The two proved no match inside for the 6’5 sophomore, as Austin tallied 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists while also scoring Maryland’s first 10 points of the second half to help further put away the Hawkeyes in this one.
“I feel like the third quarter is just my quarter,” Austin said. “Sometimes the first half doesn’t go the way I want it to go, but I feel like I was just a lot more patient. My foot work was everywhere it needs it to be, and I was finishing well. Just being aggressive, my teammates kept finding me and it just kept going in.”
2. Taylor Mikesell rebounded from a rough game. After shooting just 1-of-9 from three and 2-for-14 from the field in Maryland’s loss to Iowa on Jan. 9, Mikesell came out firing on all cylinders from beyond the arc in this one. She sank each of her first four three-point attempts in this one, finishing the game at 4-for-6 from deep for 12 points. In what will most likely be the team’s most important game of the regular season, Mikesell showed up.
Charles also had a great game, finishing with a game-high 21 points to go along with nine rebounds.
3. Kathleen Doyle and Makenzie Meyer were locked down. Iowa’s dynamic back-court duo proved to much to handle for the Terps the last time the two teams played, combining for 41 of the Hawkeyes 66 points in their win over a month ago.
In Thursday’s contest, Maryland refused to let the Doyle and Meyer beat them again, holding them to 16 points combined on 6-of-23 shooting from the field. Meyer and Doyle have been two of the best guards in the conference this season, but they didn’t look anything like it in this one thanks to a dominant defensive effort from the Terps.
“They’re great players,” Frese said of shutting down Doyle and Meyer. “But I just thought the mentality was locked in, all five that there on the floor ... we gave them a lot of different looks and they had to work, I thought our ball pressure was significant in this game.”