After capturing its fifth Big Ten regular season title in the last six seasons, No. 1-seed Maryland women’s basketball will face No. 9-seed Purdue in its first matchup of the 2020 Big Ten tournament.
Entering as the top seed, the Terps only need three wins to secure their first Big Ten Tournament title since 2017, starting with Friday’s quarterfinal matchup. Despite feeling the pressure a bit after coming up short in the title game in each of the last two seasons, Maryland is striving to get it right this time around.
“It’s a lot of fuel, because we fell short two years in a row, and I wanna get back there,” senior guard Kaila Charles said. “Hopefully have a different outcome this year so we’re ready to play Maryland basketball.”
Friday, March 6 noon ET, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
TV: Big Ten Network
Streaming: Fox Sports Go
How did they get here?
No. 1-seed Maryland Terrapins (25-4, 16-2 Big Ten)
The Terps entered this season as the favorites for the Big Ten title, but it didn’t always look like that was going to be the case. Maryland entered conference play with just two losses on its record, but split its first four games of conference play to put itself at 2-2.
But a players-only meeting following the team’s loss to Iowa on Jan. 9 turned the Terps’ season around. The team went on to win 14-straight games to shoot back up to the top of the conference, ultimately sharing the Big Ten regular season title with Northwestern.
“The Iowa game was really when the accountability took place, after that second loss that the team made its own,” head coach Brenda Frese said.
No. 9 seed Purdue Boilermakers (18-13, 8-10 Big Ten)
Purdue’s season took a turn for the worse following an 11-3 start through 14 games, eventually going on to finish the season 6-11 from that point on. Despite the efforts of Preseason All-Big Ten team honoree Ae’Rianna Harris, the Boilermakers finished second-to-last in the conference in scoring with only 64.1 points per game.
The Boilermakers’ subpar 8-10 conference record was enough to earn them a first-round bye in this year’s tournament, pitting them against the No. 8 seed Michigan State Spartans in their first matchup.
Purdue rode a hot start to the game all the way to a 72-63 win over the Spartans, with Harris carrying the load on both ends for Purdue in the win. She notched her eighth double-double of the season with 15 points and 10 rebounds, while also setting a program conference tournament record with seven blocks.
“First 10 minutes we really keyed in,” head coach Sharon Versyp said. “We were just due to really connect and play well, and we wanted to get the ball inside immediately, and we did.”
What happened last time?
Feb. 25 — Maryland 88, Purdue 45
Purdue’s last matchup with the Terps was rather poorly-timed, as the Boilermakers were forced to travel to the College Park to face Maryland on its senior day, a game which marked the final regular-season home game for Charles, Stephanie Jones, Blair Watson and Sara Vujacic. Purdue also came in having lost four of its last six games, but beating Maryland on its home floor — a feat they accomplished two seasons ago — could have been a turning point for in its NCAA Tournament push.
The Boilermakers managed to hang in there with the red-hot Terps through the early part of the contest, finishing the first period down by just seven points with the score at 19-12 after ten minutes of action.
But the Terps went on to out-score their opponent 53-33 in the second half, thanks to dominant efforts on the interior by Jones (18 points, 9 rebounds) and sophomore forward Shakira Austin (17 points, 14 rebounds). The team also managed to give Vujacic a proper send off in what could be one of her final appearances on the floor at the Xfinity Center, scoring 10 points on 2-for-3 shooting from deep after receiving the senior day starting nod.
Three Things to Watch
1. Can the Terps dominate once again, but on a neutral site? In large part, the Terps were able to handle the Boilermakers in their previous matchup. But will this game being away from Xfinity Center this time around have an impact on the outcome?
“It’s a different element when you’re playing at home versus a neutral site and every game is different,” Frese said. “Especially in the tournament, everybody’s hungry and motivated, and you’re gonna have to play your best basketball.”
2. How will the freshmen perform on the on a bigger stage? Frese has made developing her bench a point of emphasis down the stretch of the season, with depth becoming even more important with the reduced time between games during the tournament. With two of the Terps’ key bench pieces being freshmen in Ashley Owusu and Diamond Miller, getting them acclimated to the atmosphere of the tournament will be crucial.
“We definitely need our younger players,” Charles said. “We need them to come off the bench and give us that spark. And they’ve been handling their own this entire Big Ten conference [slate] so I’m excited to see their growth.
“... We just talked to them to tell them that it’s gonna be intense, it’s gonna be like nothing they’ve ever seen before. So we’re just preparing them mentally, but I think they’re gonna be fine going out there.”
3. Can Austin and Jones keep Harris in check? The last time these teams met — though Harris’s side ultimately ended up getting blown out by over 40 points — the Boilermaker forward managed a solid game on her own. She finished with a double-double in that February contest — her seventh of the season before tallying her eighth against Michigan State yesterday.
With much of Purdue’s offense revolving around Harris, strong defense from Jones and Austin could keep this one from being competitive.