No. 9 Maryland women’s basketball will host Minnesota Saturday at noon. The Terps are searching to sweep the series and improve to 12-1 in conference play.
After losing to then-No. 14 Ohio State, 88-86, on the road in Columbus, Ohio, Maryland turned things around quickly. In the four games since the loss, the Terps have won in a dominant fashion. Their average scoring margin this season is +20.0 and the closest game Maryland has had since the loss to Ohio State is 22 points.
Last season, Maryland had one of the best defenses in the Big Ten, but this season, it’s all about offense for the Terps. They have the top scoring offense in the country, averaging 92.4 points per game.
“[As coaches,] I am really proud of the fact that we’ve been able to adapt our styles — two polar opposite teams — but at the same point, I love that this team now has grown on the defensive end,” Frese said. “But, we’ve been able to really showcase their strengths of their unselfishness and how they’re able to score the basketball.”
The Terps will look to put together a full 40-minute performance on both sides of the court when they face Minnesota for the second time this season. The game will air on Big Ten Plus.
What happened last time
About a month ago on Jan. 14, Maryland traveled to Minneapolis to take on the Golden Gophers as it searched to keep it eight-game win streak alive and its Big Ten record perfect.
Led by its offensive firepower, Maryland did just that and came home with a victory, 90-73.
Four players finished the night by putting up double-digit scoring. Sophomore guard Ashley Owusu had 11 points, while sophomore guard Diamond Miller, senior guard Katie Benzan and senior forward Chloe Bibby scored 20 points or more each.
But, despite coming out with a win, the team was still concerned that they did not pull together a full defensive performance.
In the first quarter, Maryland allowed Minnesota to go on multiple runs to keep the game close and halfway through the second quarter the Gophers were shooting 63% from beyond the arc. Although the Terps maintained their lead, Minnesota outscored them by one point in the second quarter.
“We can’t start games like that. We have a first half like that against a top-10 opponent and we’re down by 20,” Bibby said on Jan. 14. “We know that and it’s all a learning curve.”
The Terps bounced right back and responded well out of the locker room, and since that game, they have been looking to improve on maintaining defensive strength through the entirety of the game.
“[Minnesota is] a team that has a lot of weapons, very versatile inside and out,” Frese said. “[Jasmine] Powell gave us a lot of problems the last game, so we’re gonna have to have a better defensive effort coming out in this game.”
What’s happened since
Maryland has played six conference games since last facing Minnesota — Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin again, Nebraska and Illinois. The Terps swept Wisconsin and finished the series against Michigan State 2-0. They had dominant offensive performances against Nebraska and Illinois, but they fell to Ohio State on Jan. 25.
When the Terps played Wisconsin the first time and then later against Ohio State, Maryland struggled to come out hot from the tip, but the team has since turned things around.
The win against Nebraska marked Frese’s 500th win as a head coach at Maryland, and in this matchup against Minnesota, she will be searching for win No. 502.
Since the last matchup, the Terps have reclaimed their spot as the top offense in the country, led by Owusu, who was named a finalist for the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award and to the Naismith Midseason list.
Minnesota has played eight games since Jan. 14 and won five of them. The Gophers had victories over Nebraska, Penn State, Purdue, Illinois and Wisconsin, but lost to Iowa, Rutgers and Ohio State.
In the game against Penn State, Gadiva Hubbard, who finished last season ranked seventh in team history in career three-pointers made and attempted (178-of-510), injured her ankle. She was out for five games but is now active.
Against Rutgers, her first game since the injury, Hubbard hit her 200th career three-point shot, moving into 6th place in program history.
In the five weeks since these two teams last met, Maryland has had two games postponed and Minnesota has had one due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Three things to watch
1. How will the Terps come out defensively? Since the last time Maryland faced Minnesota, the Terps have known that in order to win games in a dominant fashion, they have to tighten their defense. They have put together some full performances on both ends of the court, but they’ve been working on becoming as consistent as they are offensively, defensively.
The last few Maryland games have had strong defensive showings, but there have been some slow periods that team hopes to eliminate against Minnesota.
“[Our] main focuses have been just playing into our Maryland way of defense and just communicating,” sophomore forward Faith Masonius said. “Knowing our scout and just preparing for Minnesota and for March.”
2. In what way will Diamond Miller impact this game? Miller has shown dramatic improvement since last season. In her freshman year, the guard averaged 7.7 points per game. This year, she is second on the team behind Owusu and averages 17.1 per game. Against Nebraska, Miller tallied 24 points, one behind Owusu’s game-high 25, and had two assists. However, against Illinois, Miller had 11 points, including only four in the first half, but she pulled in eight rebounds and had seven assists.
Miller without a doubt impacts this team in a positive way regardless of whether she is the one scoring, but it will be interesting to see how she responds to a lower scoring performance like the one she had against Illinois.
3. Can Maryland capitalize on Minnesota’s turnovers? The Gophers average 16.4 turnovers per game with a -2.2 margin, while the Terps average 12.9 per game with a +3.0 margin. Maryland has forced its opponents this season to an average 15.9 turnovers per game. With Minnesota slightly above that margin, it will be interesting to watch if Maryland will be able to force mistakes and score points off of the slip-ups.
Against Wisconsin, Maryland forced 25 turnovers and scored 30 points off the takeaways to break their previous season-high record of 24. In the matchup with Illinois, Maryland forced 24 turnovers and scored 32 points off the takeaways.
“I was proud of the effort that we were able to sustain for the 40 minutes [against Illinois], but obviously [now we face] a new opponent with Minnesota that gave us problems last time we were in Minneapolis,” Frese said.
The first time these two teams met, Maryland forced just six turnovers and scored 10 points off them.