Head coach Brenda Frese raised her arms with a big smile as she gave air-hugs toward the crowd after the final buzzer sounded Thursday afternoon. She had just reached yet another career milestone with the 2020-21 Maryland women’s basketball team.
The Terps put together a fast-paced performance, much like they have done against opponents all season, to secure the 88-63 victory over No. 12 Michigan and clinch at least a share of the Big Ten regular-season title.
“What separates this team from all the rest right now is they’re making it look so easy when it’s really not and we’re doing it during a pandemic,” Frese said. “With so many new faces... I think the one thing I appreciate the most is just the unselfishness.”
With their ninth straight win, the Terps also secured the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament. They also strengthened their case for their push towards a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, now with wins over the current No. 10, No. 12, No. 13 and No. 24 teams in the nation.
During the 2019-20 season when the Terps clinched their last Big Ten regular-season title, they did so by defeating unranked Minnesota in a dominant 99-44 victory on the road. In that game, Taylor Mikesell, Ashley Owusu, Kaila Charles, Stephanie Jones and Shakira Austin were the top five scorers, each tallying 13 points or more.
After losing four of those players and all five starters, head coach Brenda Frese still led Maryland to its third consecutive Big Ten regular-season title after defeating a top-15 Michigan team.
“I was joking with someone today, I mean we were in the not too early top 10, then when we had the graduation and transfers, we bounced out of it,” Frese said. “So it is exciting to be able to see just through a ton of hard work and unselfish play that this team created their own identity this season. I think that's the thing that is truly special to be able to see.”
Senior guard Katie Benzan and sophomore guard Diamond Miller got things rolling for the Terps on Thursday afternoon. After Miller pulled in the defensive rebound off a missed three-point shot, she brought the ball down the court and found Benzan behind the arc, which sparked a 13-4 run for the Terps.
In just the first two and a half minutes, Michigan turned the ball over three times and Maryland capitalized on the mistakes, scoring seven points and forcing the Wolverines to call their second timeout less than three minutes into the game.
But, two seconds after the game started back up again, Michigan had a 10-second violation followed by another turnover bringing their total to five in the last three and a half minutes. The Wolverines had 21 on the afternoon — their season-high.
The Terps kept the pressure on Naz Hillmon, Michigan’s leading scorer. Her first points of the day came six minutes into the game.
Although the Terps finished the first quarter scoreless for the last three minutes, they 71% from the field while they held Michigan to hitting just six of their 14 field attempts. The Terps were a perfect 3-for-3 from deep. The 13 points Maryland held the Wolverines to was the third-lowest first quarter for them this season.
To start the second quarter, Michigan tried building up some momentum, scoring four quick points, all from Hillmon from the charity stripe. However, Maryland’s defense continued to press, sending Michigan on a scoring drought that lasted over two and a half minutes.
“[It’s] critical to be able to have our defense lead to our offense,” Frese said. “I mean, obviously we’re pretty good in transition and making the right plays for each other, so we need to be able to continue to have that.”
The Terps’ first points of the quarter came about two and a half minutes in after Miller was fouled and picked up two free throws.
Although Michigan was shooting hot, making all of its last three field goals, Maryland shut that down quickly. With three minutes to go in the half, Maryland was holding Michigan scoreless for almost three minutes, going on a 6-0 run during that span.
To finish the first half, seven different players scored and they recorded eight assists. The Terps went into the locker room with the largest lead of the game, up 46-20.
Michigan scored first in the second and the two teams continued to trade baskets, but Maryland quickly expanded on its 20-point lead when redshirt sophomore guard Mimi Collins hit her second triple of the day to bring her point total to 10 on the day two minutes into the third quarter.
Coming into this game, all five starters for the Terps averaged 10 or more points against Big Ten opponents. Owusu and Miller led the way with 19.8 and 17.6 points per game, respectively.
“I’m just being aware of what’s going on throughout the game and how the defense plays me,” Owusu said.
As the third quarter progressed, Maryland continued to play both sides of the court.
Much like they have done against Big Ten opponents this season, the Terps shattered season highs. With over four minutes to go in the third quarter, Maryland scored their 27th point off takeaways, their most points off turnovers all season. They ended with 29.
In the fourth quarter, Maryland continued its dominant performance to pull out the victory with four players finishing the game in double-digit scoring led by Owusu who had a game-high 22 points.
With the win against Michigan, Frese secured her seventh regular-season conference title. She has led Maryland to win all but one Big Ten title since joining the league, outside of Ohio State taking the nod in 2018, as well as one in the ACC during the 2009 season. In 2014 and 2015, Frese led the Terps to Big Ten regular-season titles and Final Four appearances. With their eyes set on a national title, this year’s Terps will look to do the same.
“Just seeing all our hard work being shown at the end of the season is what we live for, is why we work the way we do,” Miller said. “And this feeling never gets old and I just want to continue to have this feeling.”
Three Things To Know
1. Maryland forced turnovers and capitalized on the mistakes. In the first quarter, the Wolverines had five turnovers in three and a half minutes. The Terps finished the first frame with three turnovers while Michigan scored zero points off the takeaways. On the other side of the court, in ten minutes, Michigan had nine turnovers while the Terps capitalized scoring 14 points off the takeaways. Michigan had 15 first-half turnovers, just five shy of their season-high 20. Michigan finished the third quarter with 21. Maryland finished the game scoring a season-high 29 points off takeaways.
“To make a great team like Michigan force them into 21 turnovers again speaks volumes of our defense,” Frese said.
2. The two teams battled it out on the boards. This Michigan team is ranked second in the Big Ten, behind Maryland, in offensive rebounds, The Wolverines average 14.4 a game. In the first quarter, Maryland was outrebounded by Michigan 9-4 and in the second quarter, they continued to fight on the boards. To finish the first half, Michigan grabbed 15 boards while Maryland pulled in 13. Freshman forward Angel Reese grabbed the most for the Terps in the first half with four. Michigan’s Hillmon had five at the half. Maryland ultimately outrebounded Michigan 30-29.
3. The Terps played unselfishly and spread out their offense. At the end of the first half, Miller and Owusu both led the team with 10 points each while Masonius and Collins were close behind with eight and seven respectively. 10 of the Terps’ 46 first-half points came from the bench and 22 from inside the paint. The Terps also had eight assists on 17 field goals. To finish the game, nine different Terps scored.