For the third time this season, No. 1-seed Maryland women’s basketball will face No. 4-seed Indiana — this time with a trip to the Big Ten tournament championship on the line.
The Terps won their first tournament matchup with No. 9-seed Purdue by double-digits, but the Boilermakers managed to frustrate the tournament’s No. 1 seed for much of the Friday afternoon’s contest. Purdue held Maryland to just 35 percent shooting from the field — the team’s worst shooting performance since its Jan. 9 loss to Iowa.
It wasn’t pretty, but the Terps did what they had to to advance to the next round of the tournament, with the Hoosiers being the lone team standing between them and Maryland’s sixth straight Big Ten title game appearance.
Saturday, March 7, 6:30 p.m. EST, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
TV: Big Ten Network
Streaming: Fox Sports Go
How did they get here?
No. 1-seed Maryland Terrapins (26-4, 16-2 Big Ten)
Maryland’s loss to Iowa in early January moved the Terps to 2-2 after four games in Big Ten play, clouding what was supposed to be a promising season for a team that was ranked No. 4 in the Preseason AP Poll. But Maryland managed to turn its season around and rattle off 14-straight victories to secure a share of the 2019-20 Big Ten regular season title and re-enter the conversation for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Terps’ double-bye to begin the tournament matched them with Purdue in the quarterfinal round, a team they previously trounced 88-45 on Feb. 25 in what was their largest margin of victory over conference opponent since 2017. But the most recent meeting between the teams was far more competitive, as the Boilermakers keyed in on Maryland’s star guard in Kaila Charles, holding her to just four points on 2-of-7 shooting.
Purdue managed to prevent any large runs from the Terps to keep the score from getting out of hand, but ultimately Maryland proved too much for a Boilermaker team that’s pushing for an NCAA Tournament berth.
“Just really pleased with our team, just the effort and the game plan and executing it,” Purdue head coach Sharon Versyp said. “I thought it was a really hard-fought battle, and obviously we wish Maryland the best of success.”
No. 4-seed Indiana Hoosiers (24-7, 13-5 Big Ten)
The Hoosiers steamrolled their way into Big Ten play looking as if they were capable of contending for the conference’s regular season title, going 10-2 in nonconference action while defeating two juggernauts in South Carolina and UCLA. Things kept rolling right along once conference play began, winning each of their first four contests before running into consecutive matchups against Northwestern, Iowa and Maryland.
Indiana went on to lose all three of those games, diminishing its promising start. The team went on to win nine of its next eleven games to finish out its conference schedule, with one of its losses coming to Maryland once again. But 13 wins was enough to earn the Hoosiers a top-4 seed, giving them an automatic double-bye into the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament.
Their first round matchup of the tournament saw the Hoosiers take on Rutgers — a team they had already defeated once this season. Indiana led most of the way, thanks to 14 straight first quarter points and 28 total points from junior guard Ali Patberg. The Hoosiers were practically flawless at the free-throw line as well, shooting 24-for-27 from the charity stripe to defeat Rutgers 78-60 and advance to their first Big Ten tournament semi-final since 2006.
“Really happy with our guys and just how we came out,” Indiana head coach Teri Moren said. “The double-bye is sometimes a blessing and a curse in the sense that you want to get your kids out there on the floor as quickly as you can, and get that first game under your belt because I just think that that’s the most important game in any kind of a tournament format.”
What happened last time?
Feb. 6 — Maryland 79, Indiana 69
Having lost to the Terps earlier this season on the road, the Hoosiers welcomed Maryland to Bloomington with the opportunity to snap their opponent’s then-seven game winning streak.
Indiana got off to a near-perfect start, taking a six-point lead into the halftime break despite Patberg only having six points. It was in the third quarter, though, that the game took a turn. Maryland out-scored the Hoosiers 26-11 in the third to flip the game on its head, eventually cruising to a 10-point victory while extending its win-streak to eight games.
Head coach Brenda Frese heavily relied on her back-court tandem of Kaila Charles and Taylor Mikesell to get them to the finish line in that February contest, as each played 38 out of a possible 40 minutes, a luxury Frese almost certainly won’t have with the Big Ten title game being on the following day.
Three Things To Watch
1. Can Taylor Mikesell stay hot? The sophomore has really found her stroke as of late, showing no signs of hesitation when it comes to pulling the trigger from deep. She’s led the team in scoring in each of the team’s last two games, scoring 22 points in the regular season finale before matching that total in the team’s quarterfinal win over Purdue.
“I feel good,” Mikesell said. “But just trying to survive and advance at this point. Really we’re looking forward to tomorrow’s game right now and just trying to stay hot from behind the arc and as a team.”
2. Will the Terps be able to contain Patberg? A candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year this season, Patberg has the ability to take over a game at any moment, as Rutgers learned on Friday afternoon. Senior Blair Watson has shown all season that she’s one of the most defensively capable players in Division I, so the matchup between those two should be fun to watch.
“I mean, we know what she’s capable of doing,” Indiana forward Aleksa Gulbe said of Patberg. “When she is hot like that, we just give her the ball, and she does her job, and we were all confident in her, and we believe in her that she’s going to score and she’s going to do all the things that matter.
3. Can Maryland control the boards once again? In the team’s win over Purdue on Friday afternoon, the Terps dominated on the glass, out-rebounding the Boilermakers by a fair margin. The disparity ended at 54-36 in favor of Maryland by the game’s end, with 28 of those boards coming on the offensive glass. The front-court duo of Shakira Austin and Stephanie Jones has been dominant all season when it comes to rebounding the basketball, but doing so in the Big Ten Tournament and beyond will be crucial to the team’s success.