Maryland women’s basketball did it again.
In taking down Penn State, 88-61, Saturday, the No. 8 Terps secured the 2021 Big Ten regular season title outright, the program’s sixth in seven years as a member of the conference.
“[I’m] just incredibly proud of this team,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “This one is just really, really special and I think when you look at everything that this team has had to endure this season... The discipline that they’ve had to have, the sacrifices that they’ve had to make and just playing for each other. I know for our staff, it’s going to be one that we’re always going to remember.”
Maryland was tested by Penn State early, but a strong third quarter and second half overall helped earn the team a comfortable victory in the regular season finale.
Here are my takeaways from Saturday’s matchup.
Maryland withstood Penn State’s high-paced offense
Despite having the highest-scoring offense in the country and beating teams with pace, Maryland got a taste of its own medicine against Penn State.
The Nittany Lions entered Saturday’s matchup with an even faster offense than the Terps, with a pace of 74.2, and showcased that. Throughout the contest, Penn State broke the Maryland press with long passes or fast cuts, which helped it try to keep-up early.
“Their offense is predicated on that,” Frese said. They want to get the first quick shot up... so they want to get as many possessions, and I think you saw that at halftime between both teams. We’re okay with that pace if you want to run with us.”
Maryland was able to force errors despite Penn State getting shots up, holding the Nittany Lions to 36.9% shooting from the floor, including 31.3% from deep.
In the second half, the Terps also allowed nine less shot attempts for the Nittany Lions, helping them get out to a bigger lead.
“I thought once we were able to kind of get down the rotations and how they like to penetrate and shoot a lot of threes and kick them out...I thought we were able to figure that out more in the second and third quarters,” Frese said.
While many teams play with a faster pace than Maryland, nobody is able to convert at the same level, with the Terps still leading the nation in scoring offense.
The Terps lived off of Nittany Lion turnovers
When struggling offensively early on, Maryland was able to separate itself a bit thanks to 12 Penn State turnovers in the first half.
In the second half, the Terps turned on their offense, shooting 53.1% from the floor, and combining that effort with 11 more turnovers — forcing 23 total on the evening.
“It was our energy,” junior forward Mimi Collins said. “Their pace was speeding us up and we were just going back and forth with possession, possession, and just coming in at halftime and just understanding that we have to find our own pace and do what we do best and that’s what we did with our defending.”
The 23 turnover performance sits as the fourth-best effort from Maryland this season. The Terps force an average 16.2 turnovers per game.
“We understand that they were trying to get up the floor,” Collins said. “So we was cutting off the sideline, middle, and we was just getting a whole bunch of steals, so we just fixed our mistakes.”
Despite holding a new identity as an offensive giant this season, the Terps have been able to get the job done defensively when needed. With postseason play right around the corner, being strong on both ends of the floor will provide the best chance to be successful.
Maryland cut down the nets because anything can happen from here
Frese said it best when speaking after the Terps’ win, mentioning that Maryland planned to cut down the nets “because you never know what lies ahead.”
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Maryland was fortunate to play 23 games, including a Thanksgiving tournament and 10 road trips, with just two league games missed due to opponents.
“The reason why I wanted to do it this year is it did hit differently,” Frese said. “I think we all recognize the fact that we’re in a pandemic and there’s nothing guaranteed for tomorrow. Our purpose is to continue to play, but we saw a year ago when we were shut down completely and weren’t able to play in the NCAA Tournament, so we don’t want to take anything for granted.”
The first place Terps’ next task will be the Big Ten tournament in Indianapolis, where they took the crown last season just before the sports world shut down.
“Just making sure we’re staying safe and being smart off the court [will be key],” sophomore guard Ashley Ouwsu said. “Just staying like in a little bubble and just stay in focused and getting ready for what’s ahead.”
The Big Ten tournament will entirely take place at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, with each eligible team taking part. There will be a limited number of fans in attendance, but there will be no in-person contact between players and media or other personnel.
The NCAA Tournament will be more of a challenge, as it takes place in Texas, where a mask mandate was just dropped and businesses are now allowed to operate at full capacity.
Game sites will be consolidated the Alamodome in San Antonio from the Sweet 16 through the 2021 National Championship game.