Already holding a double-digit first quarter lead, No. 13 Maryland women’s basketball looked ready to deliver an early knockout blow against visiting Rutgers within the game’s first ten minutes.
With 3:32 remaining in the first period, freshman guard Ashley Owusu dribbled the ball across half-court and was immediately met by a Scarlet Knight defender. As her defender reached for a steal, she whipped it behind her back to free herself up at the top of the key, feinting as if she were going to shoot before hitting Stephanie Jones on the low-block for the bucket.
The highlight-reel worthy play from Owusu put the Terps ahead by 13, a lead they only kept adding to as they rolled to their ninth straight win and fourth in a row by double-digits, defeating Rutgers 79-50 Sunday afternoon.
“I’m mostly comfortable in transition,” Owusu said. “Just keeping my head on swivel and being able to locate my teammates.”
With the win, Maryland is temporarily in sole first place of the Big Ten, pending the result of No. 20 Iowa’s game later on Sunday.
The Terps wasted no time jumping all over the Scarlet Knights in the first and only matchup between the two teams this season, bringing the same level of intensity on both ends — despite playing their third game in less than a week. Of Rutgers’ first five possessions, four of them ended in turnovers, including a steal in the backcourt by Kaila Charles that led to an easy layup for the senior.
“We really wanted to embrace the physicality,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “We set the tone aggressively when you talk about five straight turnovers to force them into to start.”
While Rutgers’ first field goal didn’t come until the 5:53 mark of the first quarter, Charles knocked down each of her first four attempts from the field en route to an 10-point first quarter to lead all scorers. Sophomore guard Taylor Mikesell knocked down a pair of triples as well, as the Terps shot 10-of-18 from the floor and took a 25-17 lead into the second quarter in what was one of their more dominant starts to a game this season.
But a strong close to the first kept the Scarlet Knights in it, as their leading scorer in Arella Guirantes (19.6 ppg) began to find a rhythm offensively. The Terps kept their foot on the gas though, with senior guard Blair Watson sinking two three-pointers while Rutgers missed its first seven shots in the second quarter.
“It’s huge,” Frese said of the team’s outside shooting success early. “I don’t know how you guard us with our inside-outside play, and I think they’re in a great rhythm finding each other.”
Maryland went on to open up a 20-point lead over the Knights before the end of the first half, eventually taking a 44-26 lead into the break.
The Terps looked to build on their already large lead by attacking at the rim in the second half, playing through their big presence inside in 6’5 sophomore forward Shakira Austin. She gave the Scarlet Knights fits in trying to figure out how to stop her inside, forcing her way to the free-throw line three times and knocking down all six of her shots at the charity stripe.
Maryland got a majority of its points from the free-throw line in the third quarter, going 12-for-13 from the stripe to extend its lead to as high as 27 points before the end of the period.
Charles continued to efficiently fill it up as well. With a little over two minutes remaining in the third, she took her opponent off the dribble from outside the three-point line and finished an impressive reverse layup high off the glass to give her 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting after three quarters.
The Terps continued to coast the rest of the way in the fourth quarter, displaying their dominance by out-scoring Rutgers in every quarter of Sunday’s contest.
And with 6:07 remaining, Jones managed to get the fans off their feet one last time before the final horn. The senior forward received the ball in the post and put on a number of different moves before finishing off the glass as she went to the floor to give her 14 points in the dominant victory.
The Terps only scored 11 points in the final quarter, but it didn’t matter as they held the lead for the entire matchup with the Scarlet Knights as their longest winning streak of the season continued.
Three Things to Know
1. Kaila Charles moved to eighth all-time in the program’s all-time scoring list. With a layup at the 8:17 mark in the first quarter, the senior guard passed Shay Doron on the team’s all-time scoring list with over 1,787 points in her Terp career now. With her 16 points Sunday, she’s now roughly 36 points behind the seventh leading scorer in Vicky Bullett, with still plenty of games left to play this season.
“Can’t say enough about Kaila,” Frese said. “She has just set the tone for us in this last month and we couldn’t do it without her leadership.”
2. The Terps were lights out at the free throw line. This year’s Terps have shown that they’re not only capable of getting to the rim, but can make teams pay for not playing disciplined defense. Maryland got to the line constantly Sunday, taking advantage of its opportunities at the charity stripe by shooting 25-for-29 on the day.
“I feel like at the beginning of the season our [free throw] percentages were pretty low,” Austin said. “Free throws have been a main key in excelling to the next level for my game so it’s been a main focus these past few months but its showing on the court.”
3. Ashley Owusu stayed hot. The team’s freshman phenom has really begun to hit her stride lately after experiencing a bit of a midseason lull, scoring in double-digits for the third straight time in Sunday’s win. She scored 14 points while going 7-of-8 from the line and dished nine assists to put together a complete performance off the bench. In her past three showings, Owusu has averaged 18.33 points.