After the final buzzer sounded, confetti rained down on the Maryland women’s basketball team as it surrounded head coach Brenda Frese, who had tears of joy running down her face.
The players erupted into cheers, jumping around with smiles on their faces soaking up every moment of the celebration as they caught the confetti falling from the ceiling.
With unselfish play and high energy throughout the entirety of the matchup, Maryland defeated Iowa in the Big Ten Championship 104-84, to secure its fifth title in seven years.
“What a dominating performance...what I’m most proud of is just watching their unselfishness,” Frese said. “You know, how hard they played against a really, really good Iowa team.”
Maryland had 29 assists on 41 field goals in this championship game, breaking the record for most assists in a Big Ten title game. Sophomore guards Ashley Owusu and Diamond Miller led the way with seven assists each.
The Terps have made the conference championship in seven consecutive seasons since joining the Big Ten. These seven Big Ten title game appearances are the most consecutive Big Ten league title game appearances by any basketball team in Big Ten history, men or women.
It was clear early on in this one that the Terps were determined on earning their fifth as they went for back-to-back conference titles.
“It felt special last year and it feels special this year to come in, to be able to come in with basically a whole new team and... [Diamond and I are] basically the leaders on the team so, just being able to lead our team to a Big Ten, another Big Ten title was special,” Owusu said.
Coming into this championship game, these two teams had the top two scoring offenses in Division I basketball. Maryland averaged 90.8 points per game, leading the country, while Iowa averaged 86.7 points per game.
Maryland started off hot with senior guard Katie Benzan hitting a three from the right side of the arc less than 15 seconds into the game to spark a 10-2 run for the Terps.
The first time these two teams met, Benzan had 29 points and went 9-for-10 from behind the arc, a program record.
Although the Hawkeyes’ Caitlin Clark, the 2020-21 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, snapped the run with a three-point shot, Maryland kept its momentum alive. With seven minutes left in the first quarter, the Terps had hit four of their last five field goals.
However, Iowa went on a 9-2 run to close the game to three, but just as the Hawkeyes came close to stealing the lead with about three minutes left in the quarter, senior forward Chloe Bibby hit her third three of the day to spark a 7-0 run for the Terps, forcing Iowa to call a timeout.
As Maryland’s defense sent the Hawkeyes into a two and a half minute scoring drought to end the quarter, it extended their lead to 29-18. Maryland’s 29 first-quarter points are the most scored in the first 10 minutes by the Terps in a Big Ten Tournament championship game. Their previous high was 22 points scored against Ohio State in March 2018. However, the Terps went on to lose that game after the Buckeyes outscored them 27-9 in the second quarter.
In this matchup, however, that was not the case.
Although Clark hit the first points of the second frame with her third three of the day, Maryland responded with a 6-0 run that lasted over a minute. After Iowa snapped it with a jumper, redshirt sophomore forward Mimi Collins hit her first three-pointer of the day forcing the Hawkeyes to call a timeout.
Collins was shooting a perfect 3-for-3 from the field, 1-for-1 from deep and 2-for-2 from the charity stripe with about eight minutes to go in the first half.
Out of the timeout, the Hawkeyes snapped their cold streak going on a 7-0 run that lasted about a minute. To re-energize her team, the Big Ten Coach of the Year, Brenda Frese, called a Maryland timeout.
Out of the timeout, Maryland still did not hit a field goal until about two minutes later however a pair of successful free throws from senior forward Alaysia Styles sparked an 8-0 run for the Terps.
“We’re always smiling, not all the time of course, but we just push through the punches and...throughout the ups and downs we’re able to push through and continue to play Maryland basketball,” Miller said.
As Maryland’s scoring offense heated up, Iowa’s went completely cold. The Terps’ defense sent the Hawkeyes into a three-and-a-half-minute scoring drought that included Iowa hitting zero of their last five attempted field goals with three minutes left. Maryland went into the locker room at the half leading 55-37, as they outscored Iowa 26-19 in the second frame.
The first time these two teams met, Clark had 29 first-half points. The freshman shot 9-for-13 from the field including eight threes and went a perfect 3-for-3 from the charity stripe.
On Saturday afternoon, on the other hand, the Terps held Clark to just 10 points, 3-for-8 from the field, all from deep, and 1-for-2 from the free-throw line.
However, to start the second half, Clark responded with a three following Collins’ made attempt from deep. With eight minutes to go in the third, Iowa was a perfect 4-for-4 from the field as they hit a 6-0 run, forcing a Maryland timeout.
With 7:08 left in the third quarter, Miller had the ball on the right side of the arc, as Iowa applied the pressure, the sophomore guard found Collins on the opposite side of the court. Miller passed the ball outside of the arc to the 6-foot-3 forward, who sank her third three-pointer of the day to snap Maryland’s cold streak.
“When you’re talking about the ‘06 team, I mean this team is probably even more potent. A little more, even more, depth,” Frese said. “But just the unselfishness they play with when you talk about breaking the assists record today, you know, I think really separates this team into another category.”
Maryland finished the third quarter on a 9-0 run that lasted until Iowa snapped it with a pair of free throws as the Terps entered the final frame of the game up by 22 points.
In the fourth quarter, the Terps offense continued to push as they finished the game shooting 51% from the field including 11 successful shots from deep.
The Terps’ 100 point performance marks the sixth time this season that Maryland hit 100 points and the third time it did so against a Big Ten team.
“We did a great job, we were just trying to win the game. So, I think every time I stepped on the court, I played my hardest,” Miller said. “It was just another game for me and I’m just happy we won.”
Three Things To Know
1. Maryland capitalized on second chances. In the first quarter, 13 of Maryland’s 29 points came off of second chances. The Terps outrebounded the Hawkeyes 15-7 in that frame and had 10 offensive boards compared to Iowa’s two. In the first quarter, Iowa had just five second chance points. The trend continued throughout the rest of the game as the Terps finished with 22 second chance points.
2. The Terps forced turnovers and benefitted from Iowa’s mistakes. In the first half, Iowa turned the ball over 11 times. The Hawkeyes average 20.39 per game and Maryland was on track to forcing that many in this championship game. The first time these two teams met earlier this season, Maryland forced 16 Iowa turnovers and scored 22 points from takeaways.
To finish the game, Maryland forced 17 turnovers and scored 26 points off the takeaways.
3. Maryland heads into the NCAA Tournament as a team filled with offensive weapons. The theme of this season for the Terps has been unselfish play and electric offensive performances. In the first half alone, five players who entered the game for the Terps had seven or more points. All eight players who got on the court in the first 20 minutes of play had two or more points. Twelve of the Terps’ 55 first-half points came from the bench. The Terps are the only Division I team to have six players to average 10 or more points per game and in the championship game, five different players scored 12 or more points.
“Every time we step on the floor we want to compete no matter who we play,” Owusu said. “So, [we’re] just coming in every game and even every practice and just playing Maryland basketball and sharing the ball.”
Miller, Collins, Benzan, Owusu and Bibby all had double-digit scoring performances. Bibby led the way with 21 points, followed by Collins who had 17 points and six rebounds. Miller tallied 15 points, Benzan finished with 14 points and Owusu ended the game with 12.