Maryland women’s basketball was celebrating on Saturday, even though the No. 6 Terps didn’t play a game. Instead, they watched as No. 5 Ohio State fell in triple overtime to No. 20 Michigan State, 107-105. The Buckeye loss, their second in a row to end the season, ensures Maryland at least a share of the regular-season Big Ten title, and a win against Minnesota Sunday gives the Terps the top seed in the conference tournament.
Maryland is coming off a close-but-not-that-close win against Wisconsin on Thursday. Sunday is Senior Day, which puts the spotlight on Malina Howard, Brene Moseley, Chloe Pavlech and Tierney Pfirman. Moseley enters the game with 978 career points, so there’s an outside chance she reaches the milestone of 1,000 in this one. 500 Howard bobbleheads will be given away to fans with winning scratch-off tickets.
"They set the tone from the first day they stepped foot on campus as freshmen," head coach Brenda Frese said of the senior class at media availability Friday afternoon. "They’ve spent every summer session here, so it describes their work ethic both on and off the court."
Maryland has also teamed up with Play4theCure, and cancer survivors who registered online will be recognized on the floor before the game. Cancer research is an incredibly important subject for Frese, whose son Tyler Thomas fought leukemia from 2010-13.
"We’ve all been touched in some way through somebody that has been impacted by cancer," Frese said. "I have my own personal story that everyone knows, but for us it’s something bigger, trying to make a difference."
Minnesota is a bubble team fresh off an upset win over Ohio State on Wednesday. The Golden Gophers are headed by senior guard Rachel Banham, who has been perhaps the best player in the country over the second half of the season. It’s a small team that plays at a quick pace and has a ton to play for, so the Terps will have their hands full.
"We want to play against the best," Moseley said. "[Banham] is one of the best in the country, best in the conference, so we’re excited. We’re up for the challenge, and we’re gonna be ready."
The game tips off at 5 p.m. EST and will be televised on ESPN2. It can also be streamed via Watch ESPN.
Minnesota Golden Gophers (19-9, 11-6 Big Ten)
Marlene Stollings. In her second season at the helm, Stollings’ tenure at Minnesota has been a success so far. The Gophers went 23-10 last season and reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six years, even though Banham missed the last 23 games with an injury. Stollings was previously the head coach at Winthrop in 2011-12 and VCU from 2012-14.
Players to know
Rachel Banham, redshirt senior, 5’9, guard, No. 1. The Big Ten’s all-time leading scorer is currently on a hot streak of epic proportions. She erupted for an NCAA record-tying 60 points in a double-overtime win against Northwestern on Super Bowl Sunday, notched 35 points and sunk a buzzer-beating three against Iowa on Feb. 15, and also dropped 52 against Michigan State on Feb. 21. In the past month she has become the biggest story in women’s college basketball and gained Kobe Bryant as a fan. The fact that she had to come back from an ACL injury early last season makes the tale even better. Banham has averaged 27.8 points per game on the season and 30.8 in conference play. She’s a lights-out shooter but can score in a heap of other ways, and also leads the squad with 6.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game.
Carlie Wagner, sophomore, 5’10, guard, No. 33. Because of everything written above, Wagner’s play probably hasn’t received enough attention. She pours in 19.4 points per game, and it was her jumper that toppled Ohio State Wednesday. She’s not afraid to shoot it, as evidenced by her 11-of-30 outing against the Buckeyes. In Banham and Wagner, Minnesota has the highest-scoring duo in all the land.
Shayne Mullaney, senior, 5’10, guard, No. 3. Mullaney actually comes off the bench but still averages over 31 minutes and 10 points per game. She’s a good shooter, as well, but also leads the team in assists (4.5 apg).
Shooting. Minnesota’s 35.8 percent mark from downtown is only sixth-best in the Big Ten, but the Gophers have heated up in conference play (39.0 percent). Banham is the biggest threat, of course, but Wagner, Mullaney, senior Mikayla Bailey and junior Joanna Hedstrom can all knock them down, as well.
Size. The Gophers are an insanely small team that regularly plays four guards at once. Perhaps the most similar Maryland opponent is Syracuse, and the Terps dominated that game inside. Brionna Jones is on a hot streak, and there’s no reason to believe it won’t continue Sunday.
Maryland wins, 92-85.