And then there were two.
Another narrow finish in the third rendition of Maryland women’s lacrosse versus Johns Hopkins set up a Big Ten championship game between the conference’s top-two seeds.
The No. 2 seed Maryland Terrapins enter as heavy underdogs against the No. 1 seed Northwestern Wildcats. Northwestern beat up on the Terps in the prior two meetings, but Maryland could look to play spoiler to the Wildcats’ undefeated season after flashing its potential in the Big Ten quarterfinal and semifinal.
Sunday’s championship game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network at noon.
What happened last time
It wasn’t a series to remember for the Terrapins. The first meeting was Northwestern all the way as the Wildcats never looked back after scoring 13 first-half goals, coasting to a dominant 25-12 victory.
Game two was a bit different, as Maryland held the lead with just under a minute to play in the first half. A disastrous sequence by the Terrapins led to attacker Erin Coykendall tying it up with just a second to spare. And then the wheels fell off.
The Wildcats outscored Maryland 13-3 in the second half, giving them their second double-digit victory of the weekend and leaving the Terps scratching their heads on how to beat this offensive juggernaut.
What has happened since
Northwestern continued to prove why it is one of the best teams in the country, if not the best. The nation’s number one offense tormented the rest of its competition, averaging 21.3 goals per game over the previous three wins to get to this point.
For Maryland, it was a little bit up and down to end the regular season, but this recent stretch in the Big Ten tournament has seen the Terps showcase its potential.
Thursday’s quarterfinal matchup was all offense in the first half, whereas the semi-final game against Hopkins saw the Terrapins pitch a first-half shutout. The second halves have been a bit more problematic but Maryland has surely seen its best efforts of late.
Three things to watch
1. Can Maryland put it all together? This is overwhelmingly the biggest question mark heading into Sunday’s Big Ten final. We’ve seen Maryland put together its best offensive and defensive halves on the season but falter down the stretch in the final 30 minutes. In the championship game, not only will the Terps need to put it all together and try to find some continuity on both ends for a full 60 minutes, but they may have to play a perfect game against the Wildcats.
2. How will the Terps come out of the gates? In order to beat Northwestern, teams have to worry about keeping up with the NCAA’s highest scoring offense. The high octane Wildcats attack boasts five All-Big Ten selections and is a handful for any team to manage. Maryland has to pressure the Wildcats early by initiating on the offense instead of falling back and waiting for openings to come to them. If the Terps fall into an offensive slump like they have time and time again this past season, this game could be over early.
3. Draw controls will be crucial. Maryland will have another tall task on the draw circle, which will certainly help dictate whether or not the Terps can get off to a fast start. Northwestern out-gained the Terps 24-14 and 21-10, respectively, on the draw circle in the prior two meetings. These ghastly margins will need to be shored up in order for the Terrapins to dictate the tempo of the game and try to slow down the Wildcats.