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Maryland women’s basketball Big Ten tournament preview: Semifinals vs Northwestern

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The Terps survived against Nebraska and will now face the Wildcats in the next round of the Big Ten Tournament.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

No. 1-seed Maryland women’s basketball will face No. 5-seed Northwestern Thursday with a trip to the Big Ten tournament championship on the line.

The two teams met once this season, with Maryland pulling out with a 62-50 victory on Feb. 28 in Evanston, Illinois.

The Terps won their first matchup of the tournament with a tight 83-73 victory over No. 8-seed Nebraska. Maryland wasn’t able to pull away until late with sophomore guard Ashley Owusu’s heroics and even trailed early in the fourth quarter at one point.

It certainly wasn’t their best performance of the season, but the Terps did just enough to advance to the next round of the tournament. Now the Wildcats are the last team standing between them and a seventh straight Big Ten title game appearance.

Game information

Friday, March 12, 2 p.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 (22-2, 17-1 Big Ten)

Maryland (22-2) 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 regular season 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 boasted the country’s top scoring offense that averaged 91 points per game in the regular season. 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.

Most recently, Maryland took down Nebraska in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament. The Terps went into halftime with just a 38-34 lead in what was a strong half for the Cornhuskers.

However, Maryland was able to right the ship in the fourth quarter as it pulled away for its first win of the tournament to advance. The Terps finished the final frame outscoring Nebraska by seven en route to its 11th straight win.

Maryland used its depth scoring once again to close out its opponent. Owusu scored 22 points and nearly had a triple-double, while senior forward Chloe Bibby and sophomore guard Diamond Miller combined for 36 points in the win.

No. 5-seed Northwestern (15-7, 11-7 Big Ten)

Northwestern has had an up and down season en route to a semifinal game coming up against Maryland tomorrow.

The Wildcats were expected to finish amongst the top-three in the Big Ten after a strong finish last season before the season was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but made it through this campaign with seven losses in conference play. Northwestern finished behind both Rutgers and Michigan in the Big Ten standings, which were teams that were projected to finish below the Wildcats at the conclusion of the regular season.

At the start of the regular season, the Wildcats ran out to a quick 4-0 record. From that point on, Northwestern collected multiple quality wins over Big Ten opponents. The Wildcats have managed two wins over Iowa, one win over Michigan State and one win over Ohio State over the course of the season.

Northwestern finished the regular season with a strong 6-2 road record and now have a 2-0 record in games that are located at a neutral site. Northwestern managed to cruise past Illinois in its first matchup of the Big Ten tournament, as the Wildcats blew out the Illini by 25 when the final buzzer sounded.

In the next round, Northwestern demolished No. 4-seed Michigan in the second half, en route to a semifinals birth in the tournament. The Wildcats outscored the Wolverines, 35-19, in the final 20 minutes.

Michigan finished the game shooting just 29% from the field and just 1-for-15 (7%) from deep. The Wildcats also forced the Wolverines into 13 turnovers and three different Northwestern players recorded at least one steal.

It was a dominant game for the Wildcats overall and they starting to find their groove on the court as a date with Maryland approaches.

What happened last time?

Feb. 28 — Maryland 62, Northwestern 50

In its last matchup against Northwestern, Maryland scored its lowest amount of points in the 2020-21 season.

The Terps finished with just 39.7% shooting from the field as a team and just 2-for-13 (15.4%) from deep. It was an uncharacteristic day for a lot of Maryland’s regulars. Owusu scored just 10 points, senior guard Katie Benzan went 1-for-5 and Bibby couldn’t connect on any of her seven field goal attempts.

Redshirt sophomore forward Mimi Collins led the Terps in scoring with 18 and Miller chipped in with 17 points as well.

The Terps struggled to shoot from just about everywhere on the floor, but their defense is what propelled them to a victory over the Wildcats.

Northwestern was held to just 30.2% shooting as a team and had 10 turnovers. The Wildcats also shot just a 15.4% mark from three-point range in what ended up being another double-digit win for the Terps.

Three Things To Watch

1. Can sophomore guard Ashley Owusu continue to spearhead Maryland’s offense? In the 10-point win over Nebraska, Owusu was the clear X-factor for the Terps on the offensive end. Although she shot just 6-for-14, Owusu finished with 22 points and went 10-for-11 from the free-throw line. She scored 19 of her 22 points in the second half. Maryland’s leading scorer also added nine rebounds and eight assists, while limiting herself to just one turnover. If Owusu continues to find this amount of success on the floor, Maryland will go as far as she takes it.

2. Will Benzan find her rhythm? Benzan, who is one of the best three-point shooters in the country, went just 1-for-5 from long range against Nebraska in the win. She finished just 1-for-8 from the field in what was a tough performance for the normally consistent shooter. Even with the poor game, Benzan still shoots from deep with an above 50% clip. She’ll need to get her shooting efficiency back up against Northwestern and beyond if the Terps want to make a run.

3. Will the Terps be able to maintain their efficient free-throw shooting? A big reason as to why Maryland was fortunate enough to close out Nebraska was the fact that its free-throw shooting was nearly perfect. The Terps finished with a 18-for-21 (86%) shooting performance from the charity stripe. Its strong free-throw performance is nothing new for the Terps, as they average just over 79% free-throw shooting as a team. If Maryland wants to continue to win close games, its free-throw shooting will need to be a source of strength moving forward.

The Road Ahead

If Maryland advances past Northwestern, it will likely meet 2-seed Indiana or 3-seed Rutgers in the Big Ten tournament championship game, which will be on Saturday at 2 p.m. If those two teams don’t advance, the Terps would see either 7-seed Michigan State 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 tournament due to a self-imposed, NCAA recommended postseason ban.