No. 8 Maryland women’s basketball flew right out of the gates and collected its ninth straight victory over a Big Ten opponent Thursday afternoon, dismantling No. 12 Michigan, 88-63, in what turned out to be one of the best wins of the Terps’ season.
“What separates this team from all the rest, they’re making it look so easy when it’s really not,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “And we’re doing it during a pandemic. They’re hungry to be great and they’re easy to coach. They play and practice the right way.”
With the win, Maryland clinched at least a share of the 2020-21 Big Ten Conference women’s basketball title, with a chance to take the whole thing Saturday against Penn State. The Terps improve to 20-2 overall and bolster a strong 16-1 Big Ten record, which gives them a one game lead over Indiana in the conference. Both have one game left to play to close out the regular season.
Here are my three biggest takeaways from the win.
Maryland’s dominant first quarter propelled it to a massive road victory
Earlier in the season, the Terps struggled with coming out strong in the first quarter against their opponents. However, Maryland used its near-perfect performance in the first 10 minutes Thursday to set the tone for the rest of the way.
The Terps started to fire away with marksman-like precision on the offensive end to put the early pressure on the Wolverines.
Sophomore guard Diamond Miller and sophomore guard Ashley Owusu got the job done in the first few minutes of the quarter. Miller went 3-for-4 from the field for eight points.
“I’m just doing what I need to do to help my team win,” Miller said. “And that’s what I’ve been doing, just trying to help my team win. And that’s the main goal, just winning games.”
Owusu chipped in with six points on 66.7% shooting in the opening frame and the duo combined to outscore Michigan’s first quarter point total.
“I’m just being aware of what’s going on throughout the game and how the defense plays me,” Owusu said.
Six different Terps got on the score board in the opening quarter and Maryland finished the frame with 10-for-14 shooting (71%) from the field, along with a perfect 3-for-3 outing from deep in the first 10 minutes.
Maryland was able to transfer its early offensive momentum into its strong defensive play as well. Michigan was forced into a total of nine team turnovers in the first quarter and shot just 1-for-5 from three-point range. The Terps managed 14 points off turnovers in the first quarter alone.
Michigan’s most effective player, junior forward Naz Hillmon, was also limited to just two points and two field goal attempts in the frame.
The opening 10 minutes, at the end of which Maryland held a 27-13 advantage, proved to be the most meaningful quarter in the game as Michigan never took the lead for the remainder of the contest.
The Terps’ defense shined against the Wolverines
Once again, Maryland’s No. 1 scoring offense was aided by its tenacious defense.
Michigan was seemingly unable to avoid the Terps’ strong on-ball and perimeter defense, as they collected nine steals by the time the final buzzer sounded. Senior guard Katie Benzan led the way with three steals on the afternoon.
The Wolverines committed a season-high 21 turnovers. Maryland forced them into that mark as early as the third quarter in what was a relentless effort on defense.
Maryland scored 29 points as a result from those Michigan turnovers, 20 of those coming in the first half alone. The Terps’ length on the floor was evident as there were constant deflections of Wolverines’ pass attempts.
“The fact that we can press like we’re pressing...that allows us to be able to get out in transition. I mean, we forced them into 21 turnovers today,” Frese said. “Those are opportunities they weren’t getting shots at the basket. They weren’t able to get the ball into Naz, so again, just critical to be able to have our defense lead to our offense.”
In the first half, Michigan was held to 40% shooting from the floor and just 11% from three-point range. The 26 points that Michigan scored by the conclusion of the opening 20 minutes was a season-low.
Hillmon, who scored most of her points when the game was out of reach, totaled just eight points in the first half, along with one turnover. The second-leading scorer in the Big Ten was limited to just three field goal attempts in the first half.
On the afternoon, Michigan shot just 42% from the field, connecting on just three of its 5 three-point shot attempts.
“Today, I thought it was fun because I thought we defended in waves,” Frese said.
Maryland survives its toughest test to date as the postseason approaches
The Terps have officially clinched at least a share of the Big Ten regular season title, but it didn’t come against an easy opponent.
Coming into this game, Michigan had taken down two ranked opponents and had an undefeated home record of 8-0. Maryland’s takedown of the Wolverines in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was the Terps’ highest-ranked win of their season, though Indiana, who the team beat on Jan. 4, now sits at No. 10 in the AP Top 25.
“Michigan’s a top 16 team. I mean, they’re super, super talented, but I thought our mentality from the tip — we were ready to go,” Frese said.
The Terps now have a strong 4-2 record against top-25 opponents. Maryland has defeated the likes of then-No. 14 Arkansas (now No. 13), then-No. 18 Indiana (now No. 10), then-No. 23 Michigan State (now unranked) and now No. 12 Michigan. The team also defeated Rutgers, which is now ranked at No. 24. The Terps have only lost to then-No. 24 Missouri State (now No. 23) and then-No. 17 Ohio State (now No. 22).
It has been a very positive season for the Terps, who boast the No. 1 scoring offense in the nation and a defense that has slowly progressed into becoming a strong asset.
Before the win over Michigan, Maryland was being projected as one of the highest 2-seeds in the NCAA Tournament. With the 25-point win today, the Terps should be vaulted directly into the conversation for a 1-seed in March Madness. The team is also locked in as the top seed in the Big Ten tournament.