INDIANAPOLIS — After a close first half, No. 1-seed Maryland women’s basketball was looking for a momentum changing play in its Big Ten semifinal against the crowd-favorite No. 4-seed Indiana Hoosiers.
Diamond Miller grabbed an offensive board and was able to put up a second-chance layup, which was followed by a missed three-pointer from Hoosier Ali Patberg.
Blair Watson pulled down the rebound and pushed the ball up the floor to Ashley Owusu, who found Kaila Charles, who scored a layup with contact and completed an and-one play.
The sequence was part of a 17-0 third-quarter run across 6:58 that helped lead the Terps to a 66-51 win and a sixth straight Big Ten tournament championship appearance.
“[This was] just a really intense atmosphere against a really, really good IU team,” Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said. “I have no doubt that they’ll have a long run ahead of them in the NCAA Tournament.”
The Terps started their semifinal with the same scoring play — a long Charles two-pointer — and immediately went into their high-pressure defense.
Indiana was able to hang with the Terps early as both teams shot over 45 percent from the floor through the first 6:14, with the Hoosiers holding a one-point lead with one more field goal attempted and made.
Ashley Owusu recored her first minutes after getting subbed in at that point and quickly made an impact with two consecutive layups to give the Terps a 16-13 lead which they carried into the break.
Just 1:16 into the second quarter, Owusu continued her playmaking as she caught a ball in the left corner, made multiple hesitation moves towards and under the basket before finding an open Watson for a much-needed three-point make to maintain the lead.
With 6:14 left in the quarter, Patberg found open space for Indiana and drained a game-tying three, but Miller answered with a layup of her own 18 seconds later. Shakira Austin then converted an and-one chance to quickly put the Terps up 26-21.
After Maryland extended its lead to seven, both teams went on a 4:44 stretch without a field goal that was broken by an Indiana layup with six seconds left in the half.
Patberg led all scorers with 11 of Indiana’s 24 points, while seven Maryland players recorded buckets in the first 20 minutes — led by Owusu with eight points. The Terps were held back from a larger lead due to eight turnovers and an even 20-20 effort on the boards.
“We had a quick trigger,” Frese said. “We had five offensive rebounds for that low of a field-goal percentage, so we really needed to start making extra passes. We had a negative assist-to-turnover ratio, so just a little bit more patient with our offense, and I thought we were able to do that in the second half.”
The Hoosiers had the first possession of the second half and a Patberg layup shrunk the Maryland lead to a two-point game until 20 seconds later when Austin hit a turnaround jumper on the right block to answer.
Austin attempted the same play a couple possessions later on the opposite block, but missed. Stephanie Jones snuck her way in to grab the offensive board and put-back layup. Jones went on to score six points in a row — giving the Terps a 38-26 lead and forcing an Indiana timeout with 5:10 remaining in the third quarter.
Maryland ultimately carried that momentum into a 17-0 run that included holding the Hoosiers scoreless for 6:58 and helped lead to a 50-34 score after 30 minutes of play.
The Terps struggled offensively to start the fourth quarter, missing nine shots after Owusu hit a two-point jumper seven seconds in.
After Charles picked up her fourth foul of the game and the Hoosiers scored five points in a row to make it a 54-43 game, Maryland called a timeout with 6:54 remaining to cool off.
With 3:59 left to play, Miller picked up a bouncing ball in open space and took her time to set up a drought-ending three-pointer and added a second three on the next possession as part of a personal 8-0 run that extended the Maryland lead to 19 points.
“Just playing hard and playing for my team,” Miller said. “We all want to go to the championship game so we had to do whatever we had to do to get there.”
A late substitution timeout with 1:12 remaining brought on senior Sara Vujacic, who took a pass from Owusu on the left win and drained a long two-point shot with her foot on the line — becoming the eighth Terp to score in the victory.
Three things to know
1. Ali Patberg was held in check. The Big Ten Player of the Year candidate put up a dominant 28 points in Indiana’s quarterfinal win over Rutgers, but was stymied by Maryland’s swarming defense in this one. She led all scorers at the half with 11 points and three assists, but finished the game with just 16 points on 6-for-21 shooting, as Watson and Miller’s on-ball defense took her out of her rhythm.
2. The freshmen stepped up on the big stage. Any concerns over whether the freshmen guard duo of Owusu and Miller would be able perform in a high-stakes game like Saturday’s contest can be done away with at this point. The two combined for 29 points in the win, with Owusu now averaging 14.5 points per game in the Big Ten Tournament.
“[Diamond] was absolutely phenomenal,” Watson said. “There were times when she would look at me and say, ‘What am I doing wrong?,’ and I’m like. ‘You’re not doing anything wrong. Stay locked in and keep doing what you’re doing.’ She absolutely killed it going to the basket, playing defense, getting blocks. It was absolutely sensational and I’m just so proud of her.”
Each game going forward will ratchet up in intensity, so level of poise shown by Owusu and Miller certainly is encouraging for Maryland’s national title odds.
3. Stephanie Jones continued to dominate on the glass. After posting her fourth double-double of the season in Maryland’s win over Purdue, Jones continued to pull down rebound after rebound in Saturday’s win. She tallied nine points and 12 rebounds, giving her five now on the season, while helping swing the rebounding margin in favor of the Terps by the game’s final horn at 44-31.
“I’m just being aggressive and having a sense of urgency,” Jones said. “Knowing that this is my last time around, just wanting to go out the right way and setting an example for our underclassmen.”