Having surged back near the top of the Big Ten, No. 17 Maryland women’s basketball looks to continue its impressive run as of late when it hosts Michigan State Monday night in the team’s annual Play4Kay Pink Game to support breast cancer awareness.
Though still trailing No. 23 Northwestern and No. 18 Iowa in the conference standings, the Terps’ current six-game winning streak has them at 8-2 against Big Ten opponents and in position to continue to climb back up the AP rankings. With three of the team’s next four games — including Monday’s contest — being played in College Park, Maryland should only continue to trend upward.
Maryland is 14-2 all-time against Michigan State, with nine of those wins coming after it joined the Big Ten in 2014. However, the Terps have split their last four meetings with the Spartans, including a 17-point loss in East Lansing, Michigan, last season.
The game tips off at 8 p.m. and will be streamed on the Big Ten Network.
Michigan State Spartans (11-10, 4-6 Big Ten)
Head coach Suzy Merchant is one of the most accomplished head coaches in program history, winning over 500 games in her 13-year career with the Spartans. But, for her success, she’s struggled to remain in contention in the Big Ten over the last few years, failing to finish above .500 in each of the previous two seasons.
Players to Know
Sophomore guard Nia Clouden (No. 24) has paced the Spartans in scoring in the 2019-20 season, scoring 14.5 points per game after averaging double-digit scoring the season prior. An Owings Mills, Maryland, native, Clouden runs Merchant’s offense to a tee, leading the team in assists as well with 75.
Senior guard Taryn McCutcheon (No. 4) pairs with Clouden to form a high-powered backcourt for Merchant, currently second on the team in points per game (11.2) and assists (70). McCutcheon also serves as the team’s primary outside scoring threat, sinking 42 of her 127 attempts (33.1 percent) from behind the three-point line.
Sophomore forward Kayla Belles (No. 42) is Michigan State’s top inside presence, and has come on as of late for the Spartans in her last seven games. Starting in each of those last seven contests, Belles has averaged 7.7 points per game and has become the team leader in blocks this season with 20.
Defending the three point line. This Spartans are an all-around, solid defensive squad, but where they hang their hats is in their defense of the three-point line. This season, Michigan State’s opponents have shot just 26.6 percent from beyond the arc — a mark that ranks 21st in Division I and second in the Big Ten.
Maryland’s shooting duo of Taylor Mikesell and Blair Watson have enjoyed a resurgence as of late, but Michigan State figures to make things difficult for them Monday night.
Free throw shooting. Though managing a top-70 scoring offense in Division I this season, the Spartans have done so despite a difficult time from the charity stripe. Shooting just 63.2 percent from the free-throw line this season, Michigan State ranks 302nd in the country in that category and second to last in the Big Ten.
Look for Maryland’s defense to defend aggressively at the rim, forcing the Spartans to have to earn their points from the line.
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Kaila Charles continue her dominant run? The senior guard has been on an absolute tear over the team’s last five games, averaging 16.4 points while playing almost 34 minutes per contest. Though she only sits at ninth in the conference in points per game, she’s certainly lived up to the billing of Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year this season for the Terps.
2. Will Maryland make up more ground in the Big Ten standings? With Iowa having lost to Michigan on Sunday, a win for the Terps would put them at 9-2 in Big Ten play and in a three-way tie with the Hawkeyes and Northwestern. After a 2-2 start to conference play, the run Maryland has been able to put together has salvaged its Big Ten title chances and should make for an exciting end to the season as the three all compete for the conference’s top spot.
3. Will Michigan State be able to stop the Terps inside? Although the Spartans may be able to stop the Terps from three-point range, that really hasn’t been an area of emphasis for Maryland’s offense. Over the team’s six-game win streak, the Terps have averaged 42 points in the paint per game, most recently scoring 56 in their win over Ohio State last Thursday. With Belles being the team’s main rim-protector at just 6’3, look for Maryland to attack at the rim with regularity.