For the seventh consecutive season, Maryland women’s basketball has advanced to the Big Ten tournament championship game.
The top-seeded Terps took down No. 5-seed Northwestern in a blowout win, 85-52, Friday afternoon. They pulled away in the second quarter to take a healthy lead at half, which eventually proved too much for the Wildcats to overcome. The 33-point win was the eighth time this season that Maryland (23-2) has won by at least 30 points.
Maryland has now won 12 straight games dating back to Jan. 28. During that streak, not one opponent has finished a game within single-digits of head coach Brenda Frese’s squad.
The Terps are now back in the Big Ten title game and will face Iowa tomorrow. Let’s take a look at the matchup.
Saturday, March 13, 2 p.m. EST, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis
Streaming: Watch ESPN
How did they get here?
No. 1-seed Maryland Terrapins (23-2, 17-1 Big Ten)
Maryland cruised through its regular season schedule and finished with just two losses in 23 games, both of which came to ranked teams. Their strong regular season gifted the Terps a No. 7 national ranking in the AP Top 25 Poll, tied with Louisville.
After not being projected as the clear winner of the Big Ten when the season originally started, Maryland has completely blown away its season’s expectations as it swiftly advances to yet another Big Ten championship game.
The Terps are still the nation’s top scoring offense with 90.8 points per game and they also have the best assist to turnover ratio in the entire country. Maryland is also the only team in the country to have at least six players scoring in double figures. Frese, who was voted Big Ten Coach of the Year on Monday, was just named National Coach of the Year by ESPN.
Maryland struggled out of the gates in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament as it only led by four at halftime against No. 8-seed Nebraska, but it eventually pulled out the win to survive and advance. The Terps finished the final frame outscoring Nebraska by seven en route to its 11th straight win to face No. 5-seed Northwestern.
In the semifinals against the Wildcats, the rest of the Big Ten saw the Goliath of a program that is Maryland.
The Terps took a strong 22-15 lead after the end of the first quarter and the Wildcats couldn't stop the bleeding in the next frame. Maryland went on to outscore Northwestern 27-9 in the second quarter to give the Terps a 25-point halftime lead.
The Terps held on to its large lead and continued to best the Wildcats in both the third and fourth quarters. When the final buzzer sounded, Maryland had won by over 30 points for the eighth time this season.
Maryland had six players score in double figures, as senior forward Alaysia Styles surprisingly led the way for the Terps, scoring 15 points on a perfect 7-for-7 shooting day.
No. 6-seed Iowa (18-8, 13-8 Big Ten)
The Hawkeyes have had a rollercoaster of a season as they’ve managed to make it to the finals of the Big Ten tournament.
Iowa started its season with four straight wins and took down eight of its first nine opponents. Then, the Hawkeyes went on a losing skid, dropping five of their next seven games. However, Iowa was able to recapture its early season success after winning three of its final four regular season games.
In the regular season, Iowa took down its fair amount of strong opponents. The Hawkeyes defeated the likes of then-No. 24 Iowa State, Michigan, Nebraska and two wins over Minnesota. Iowa finished as the sixth team in the Big Ten standings.
Iowa has been led by its standout freshman guard Caitlin Clark. She averages over 27 points per game and is easily the most lethal option on the Hawkeyes’ roster. Clark shoots at a nearly 50% clip from the field and hits over 42% of her three-point attempts. She was recently named the Big Ten Freshman Player of the Year.
In the Big Ten tournament, Iowa first had to get through No. 11-seed Purdue in its opening game. The Hawkeyes used a second-half push to advance to the next round after outscoring the Boilermakers, 27-20, in the fourth quarter.
In the next round, Iowa was the underdog as it faced No. 3 seed Rutgers. The Hawkeyes jumped out to a quick 18-9 lead in the opening quarter and never looked back as it led the rest of the way. Clark was phenomenal again for Iowa, as she collected 21 points and 10 assists in 38 minutes of play in the upset win.
Most recently, the Hawkeyes defeated No. 7-seed Michigan State in the semifinals to advance to play Maryland in the championship.
After a tight first half, Iowa exploded in the final 20 minutes to give it a finals appearance. The Hawkeyes outscored the Spartans 47-31 in the final two quarters, as they took down Michigan State by 15 points when the final buzzer sounded.
All-Big Ten junior forward Monika Czinano had a team-high 27 points for the Hawkeyes, going a remarkably efficient 12-for-16 from the field. Clark scored 20, but shot just 6-for-21 in the win.
What happened last time?
Feb. 23 — Maryland 111, Iowa 93
The last game between Maryland and Iowa was must-watch basketball as both teams put up stunningly efficient offensive performances.
The Terps started out the game on a quick 16-3 run, which propelled it to a 41-21 lead at the end of the opening quarter. Maryland’s 41 points in the first quarter tied the program record for points in a quarter, set earlier this year against then-No. 14 Arkansas.
Maryland continued to make it rain on the offensive end, as it eventually put up a whopping 68 points in the first 20 minutes. The Terps’ 68 points were the most ever by a Big Ten school in the first half of a conference game.
Maryland held on to its massive lead for the remainder of the game and took down Iowa by 18 points.
Senior guard Katie Benzan broke the program record for three-pointers made in a game with nine, after hitting eight triples in the first half. She finished with 29 points. Sophomore guard Ashley Owusu scored 24 and chipped in with 12 assists. Sophomore guard Diamond Miller also had quite a day herself, scoring 27 in the game.
Clark scored 36 points to lead the Hawkeyes in scoring in the loss.
Three Things To Watch
1. Will Maryland’s defense help them to another championship? The Terps’ high-flying offense has been the main storyline throughout this season, but its defense against Northwestern shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Northwestern was held to just 52 points, its second lowest point total of the season. The Wildcats’ lowest scoring output of the season was 50, when it lost, 62-50, to the Terps on Feb. 28. Northwestern shot just 30% from the field and was forced into 15 turnovers due to Maryland’s tenacious on-ball presence on the perimeter. If Maryland can replicate its performance in the championship tomorrow, especially against Iowa, it will be a very difficult team to beat.
2. Can Mimi Collins continue to be the Terps’ unsung hero? One Maryland player that hasn’t received nearly enough recognition for her postseason play is the redshirt sophomore forward Collins. Through two postseason games, she has totaled 27 points and nine rebounds on 10-for-17 shooting, while limiting her turnovers to just two. Collins is quietly providing solid play down low for the Terps, and another good game from her in the paint could propel Maryland to yet another win.
3. Will Maryland hit a high note before March Madness? All of a sudden, the Terps are at their final obstacle before they find out their seeding for March Madness. It’s been a dominant, yet trying season for Maryland, as it has had its own fair share of injuries and COVID-19 postponements (due to other teams). This game will be a clear culmination of the Terps’ season efforts and it wouldn’t be surprising to see emotions flowing in such a critical game. The biggest tournament of the year is just around the corner and Maryland can leave a good taste in its mouth if it were to lift the Big Ten trophy once more come Saturday.