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Maryland women’s basketball Big Ten tournament preview: Quarterfinals vs Nebraska

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The Terps start their journey for a Big Ten tournament title against the Cornhuskers.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

After collecting its third straight Big Ten regular season title, its sixth in the last seven years since joining the conference, top-seeded Maryland women’s basketball will take on the 8-seed Nebraska Cornhuskers for its first matchup of the 2021 Big Ten tournament.

“We’re looking forward to the Big Ten tournament,” Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said. “We understand the fact that it is a new season. Everybody is now, the slate is wiped clean going 0-0 and understanding that if you win you march on, you lose you go home.”

Entering as the top seed in the tournament, the Terps only need a grand total of three wins to capture the Big Ten tournament title in back-to-back seasons. Maryland won the 2020 championship after taking down Ohio State, 82-65, before March Madness was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Let’s take a look at Maryland’s quarterfinal matchup against Nebraska.

Game information

Thursday, March 11, 11 a.m. ET, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis

TV: Fox Sports 2 (FS2)

Streaming: Fox Sports Go

How did they get here?

No. 1-seed Maryland Terrapins (21-2, 17-1 Big Ten)

The Terps entered this season projected behind No. 9 Indiana in the conference as they replaced all five starters on the court for the 2021 campaign. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and a completely new-look lineup, the Terps were able to blow away their original second-place finish expectations in the Big Ten.

Maryland (21-2) is currently tied for the No. 7 ranking in the nation and has dominated the Big Ten conference this season. The Terps finished with a stellar 17-1 record in Big Ten play, with their lone loss coming to then-No. 17 Ohio State on the road on Jan. 25 in a tight 88-86 loss.

Frese and the Terps have been able to climb the national rankings due to their potent offense that has been high-flying all season long. Maryland finished the regular season with the country’s top scoring offense with an average of 91.3 points per game. No other team in the nation is averaging above 88 per game. The Terps are also the only team in the country to have at least six players scoring in double figures.

All five of the Terps’ starters received accolades after the conclusion of the regular season. Sophomore guard Ashley Owusu, the team’s leading scorer, earned All-Big Ten First Team honors as an unanimous selection.

“I think the number one thing that [Frese] has told us is to not take anything for granted,” Owusu said. “You know, come in every practice, every game, work as hard as you can and yeah, just not take anything for granted.”

Fellow sophomore guard Diamond Miller also received All-Big Ten First Team honors. Senior guard Katie Benzan, who shot 51.6% from three in the regular season, earned Second Team honors. Forwards Chloe Bibby and Mimi Collins also earned Honorable Mentions, while Angel Reese was named to the All-Freshman Team. To top it all off, Frese was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year.

“With all the awards that we received was really a true reflection of this team,” Frese said. “I thought playing all season for one another, so you know, it’s awesome to be able to see with the unselfishness and this team has truly been committed about being better each and every day. I think you see where all the awards and the accolades take care of itself.”

No. 8-seed Nebraska Cornhuskers (12-11, 9-10 Big Ten)

The Cornhuskers had had a very middle of the pack regular season en route to a ninth place finish in the Big Ten standings.

Nebraska started the season hot with three straight wins, but followed that streak with a losing skid of three games. The Cornhuskers didn’t manage to compile a win streak greater than two games over the rest of the year from that point on.

Nebraska finished its regular season on a very sour note. The Cornhuskers managed just two wins in their final eight games, coming against then-No. 24 Northwestern and Penn State.

Despite a near .500 record, Nebraska does have some quality wins the season. It has defeated the likes of Rutgers, Michigan State, Ohio State and Northwestern twice. All of these teams sit towards the top half of the Big Ten standings. Most recently, Nebraska took down Minnesota, 72-61, in its first matchup of the Big Ten tournament to advance to the next round.

The one statistic that pops out with Nebraska as the matchup with Maryland gets closer is its inability to win away from home. The Cornhuskers have a solid 8-3 home record, but are just a combined 4-8 on the road and at neutral sites.

What happened last time?

Feb. 14 — Maryland 95, Nebraska 73

In the first matchup between these two Big Ten teams, the Terps cruised to another victory against the conference opponent and Frese collected her 500th win at Maryland. The win made Frese the all-time winningest coach in Maryland basketball program history.

The Terps jumped out to a hot start in the opening frame, hitting 11 of its 17 attempts from the field (64.7%), as Nebraska was held to just 16 points in the first 10 minutes.

Maryland went on to finish the first half with a healthy 51-33 lead over Nebraska. The third quarter such much of the same from the Terps’ side as they outscored the Cornhuskers by nine, which extended the Maryland lead even further.

When the final buzzer sounded, Maryland won 22 points in what was a dominant road performance. Owusu and Miller led the way with 49 combined points for the Terps. Collins also chipped in with 19 points and seven rebounds.

The Terps outscored the Cornhuskers in every single quarter besides the fourth, but the game was already out of reach by that time. Maryland’s 95 points set a Pinnacle Bank Arena scoring record.

Three Things to Watch

1. Will Reese become Maryland’s X-factor in the postseason? Five-star freshman forward Reese made a surprise return from injury late in the regular season for the Terps and she could be a huge factor in the postseason for Frese’s squad. The No. 2 overall player in the class of 2020 has played in nine games this season and been a difference maker.

With just an average of just over 15 minutes on the floor per game, Reese averages 11.0 points on 53.3% shooting. She also averages six rebounds per game and a team-high 1.6 blocks per game. If she is at her best in the postseason, it’ll be extremely difficult to stop the Terps.

“She’s such a competitor and such a winner and wants to do anything she can to help this team, so we’re having to catch her up with the offense,” Frese said of Reese. “You know, the amount of games that she’s missed, that chemistry and continuity takes time, our defense takes time, so I credit her.”

2. Will Owusu and Miller provide the bulk of the scoring for the Terps? Maryland’s dynamic scoring duo of Owusu and Miller has been the staple of the nation’s top scoring offense all season long. Owusu is averaging just under 19 points per game, while also chipping in with 5.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists per contest.

“I want to win,” Owusu said. “I just hate to lose and I just want to come in every day and give my best and come out with the success and the best outcome.”

Miller, on the other hand, is second on the team in scoring with an average of 17.5 points per game on over 50% shooting. If the duo is able to step up in the scoring department as it has done all season, the Terps should find themselves in a good spot to advance to the next round.

3. Can Maryland maintain its torrid run through the Big Ten? To close out the season, Maryland won 10 straight games since Jan. 28. During that winning streak, it averaged 90.5 points, 20.9 assists, 51.4% shooting from the field and 43.9% from deep en route to another Big Ten regular season title. With marksmen-like shooting efficiency and an improving defense (just one opponent has scored over 70 points on the Terps in the last seven games), Maryland’s momentum will be tough to stop.

The Road Ahead

If Maryland survives its quarterfinals matchup with Nebraska on Thursday, then it would face the winner of the No. 5-seed Northwestern and No. 4-seed Michigan matchup Friday at 2 p.m. The Terps beat Northwestern, 62-50, on Feb. 28. Maryland also took down Michigan in a dominant 88-63 road win on March 4.

If Maryland advances through that game, it will likely meet 2-seed Indiana or 3-seed Rutgers in the tournament championship, which will be on Saturday at 2 p.m. If those two teams don’t advance, the Terps would see other teams such as 10-seed Penn State, 7-seed Michigan State, 11-seed Purdue, or 6-seed Iowa in the final game.

Maryland’s only Big Ten opponent that it has lost to this season, Ohio State, is not competing in this year’s Big Ten Tournament due to a self-imposed, NCAA recommended postseason ban.