With about six and a half minutes to go in the first half, Maryland women’s basketball was up by just seven points as Northwestern was looking to build its momentum.
With six seconds on the shot clock, Wildcat Jordan Hamilton got the ball on the right side of the basket outside the arc. Freshman Angel Reese towered over the 5-foot-8 guard on defense, forcing her to try to pass the ball under the basket.
But the pressure applied was too tight and Maryland forced a turnover to the eruption of the team’s bench. The Terps capitalized on the takeaway for a triple on the other end, sparking a 22-2 run for the Terps.
Led by its defense, Maryland coasted to an 85-52 victory over Northwestern Friday afternoon to advance to the Big Ten tournament finals for the seventh consecutive season.
After winning by just a 10-point margin against Nebraska in the quarterfinals, Maryland started off strong from the tip with a 7-0 run, holding Northwestern to zero points until about two minutes into the game.
“Northwestern was gonna come in after yesterday’s game very inspired and motivated. I thought our group was just as motivated,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “We knew the last time we played Northwestern wasn’t probably our best game. So, you saw a team that I thought punched first and never looked back.”
The offense continued to show its diverse firepower, but it was the Maryland defense that took care of business early. As Northwestern’s Hamilton was looking to pass the ball from the under the basket with four minutes left in the first frame, Miller swooped in to intercept the pass and dribbled it down the court to sink the underhand layup.
With three minutes left in the first quarter, Northwestern turned the ball over four times and Maryland capitalized scoring six points off the takeaways. The Wildcats were on a two and a half minute scoring drought as they missed four straight field goals.
“We have pretty good players in our team,” Alaysia Styles said. “When our arms are out and our hands are high, it’d be hard for anybody to score against us.”
There were concerns after Owusu went to the bench after committing back-to-back personal fouls, but the Maryland depth showed out. The Terps continued to push despite being without Owusu, hitting all three of their last three attempted field goals and forcing Northwestern to call a timeout with less than minutes to go in the first frame. The Terps led 22-15 at the end of the first frame.
With Maryland up 29-22 and Northwestern inching closer in the second quarter, the Terps forced a shot clock violation turnover. Faith Masonius sank a three on the other end to spark a 22-2 run lasting the final six and a half minutes of the half.
Maryland continued to build their lead, holding Northwestern scoreless for over four and a half minutes. To finish the first half, the Wildcats hit just one of their last 11 field goals and zero of the last seven.
“We had a game plan in the beginning, just to go out there and have fun, and it was mental strength,” Reese said. “So, we all locked in and was focused together... defense led to offense so, I think that’s what happened in the second quarter.”
During Maryland’s run, Northwestern committed three turnovers in five minutes and zero field goals in over seven minutes allowing the Terps to build their lead and head into the locker room up 49-24. Northwestern’s 24 first-half points were the least points scored in a first-half by the team all season. The previous season-low was 25 points in the first half against then-No. 12 Michigan.
To start the second half, Maryland continued to deny Lindsey Pulliam, Northwestern’s second-best scorer. With zero points at the half and one halfway through the third quarter, the Terps were holding Pulliam well below her 16.3 points per game average.
With four minutes to go in the third, Northwestern called a timeout. At that point, the Terps were shooting 67% from the field, 42% from deep and 85% from the charity stripe. On the other side of the court, the Wildcats were shooting just 29% from both the field and the arc.
Maryland’s defense continued to push in the final quarter of play, including holding Northwestern to zero field goals for over three minutes again during the frame en route to the dominant victory.
“It’s a different type of basketball [at Maryland] and everyone is absolutely elite and everyone cares as much as I do about the sport and that goes from the coaching staff to the support staff,” Styles said. “It’s easy to be around people who want the same goals.”
Three Things To Know
1. Maryland continues to show it has depth and play unselfishly. With about two minutes to go in the first quarter, Owusu went to the bench after committing back-to-back personal fouls. At that point, the unanimous All-Big Ten First Team guard had five points, shooting perfectly from the field and deep.
After she left the game, the Terps did not let off the gas and found other ways to drive up the score, including using high-pressure defense to create offensive plays.
The Terps had six players finish in double-digit scoring — Styles, Miller, Mimi Collins, Owusu, Reese and Masonius. Styles led the way with 15 points and shot a perfect 7-for-7 from the field and 1-for-2 from the charity stripe.
“I think what separates this team right now is their unselfishness. I mean they’re just willing to make the right play for each other... it speaks volumes because every single player could go out each, you know, every night and put up a lot,” Frese said. “But these guys are more focused on winning and they’re winning the right way.”
2. Maryland fought hard on the glass. Although the Terps made big defensive plays that they converted into offense, they were not dominating the glass. To finish the first half, the teams were locked at 13 rebounds apiece with Northwestern winning the battle on the offensive boards. After the first 20 minutes of the game, the Wildcats had six offensive boards while the Terps grabbed one. However, during the third quarter, Maryland outrebounded Northwestern 13-9. To finish the game, the Terps grabbed 39 boards while the Wildcats had 28.
Reese led the Terps with 11 boards that helped her achieve her first career double-double.
“I’m fresh legs coming off the bench so, I mean, nobody’s expecting me to come out,” Reese said. “So [I do] whatever the team needs me to do. When I come in I can facilitate and defend early so today I was just able to rebound and just do everything I can do.”
3. Maryland has made it to finals every season since joining the Big Ten. Since joining the conference and making its first Big Ten Tournament appearance in 2015, the Terps have dominated their opponents. Every year except for 2018, the Terps have won at least a portion of the Big Ten regular-season title. This year, Maryland clinched sole possession of that title with the final regular-season win over Penn State.
In terms of tournament play, the Terps have won the Big Ten tournament title in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2020. The reigning Big Ten tournament champions have also never missed a conference final while in the Big Ten. The Terps will look to add another trophy to an impressive season as they continue to push for a one-seed in the NCAA Tournament Saturday.