COLLEGE PARK ——The eighth-ranked Maryland women's basketball team was on its way to a 73-56 victory over Virginia on Thursday night when junior forward Tianna Hawkins collected a pass from Anjalé Barrett that the senior point guard figured would yield a sure basket and assist.
Hawkins instead eschewed a shot from that spot, repositioned to get a cleaner look at the basket and then released the ball for one of her career-high 12 field goals and two of her career-high 26 points. Hawkins later explained to Barrett why she relinquished the initial scoring opportunity. Then, Barrett recalled, came the moment of clarity.
Hawkins' decision-making lately has produced the most efficient basketball of her career heading into today's showdown with No. 5 Duke, which is unbeaten in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Against the Cavaliers, for instance, Hawkins missed just once in 13 attempts for a shooting percentage of .923. That established a career best for Hawkins in games in which she has attempted at least 10 field goals.
Over the past four games, Hawkins is shooting 80 percent (36-for-45) and averaging 21 points and 10 rebounds. She leads the country in field-goal efficiency at 65 percent, which ranks ahead of even Baylor's Brittney Griner, the front-runner for national Player of the Year.
"She doesn't take bad shots," Maryland coach Brenda Frese said of Hawkins. "Tianna just makes great choices with the basketball."
Often that means jumpers, which translates into a bear of a matchup for defenders on the court and for opposing coaches when scouting Maryland (22-4, 9-4 ACC). At 6 feet 3, Hawkins has a well-established reputation in the conference for scoring from the low block and off offensive rebounds, but her aptitude for sinking intermediate and long jumpers has vaulted her to among the most versatile players in the country.
The Cavaliers found that out firsthand when, on four occasions, Hawkins received passes well away from the interior and converted jump shots each time. That made the going all the more comfortable for Barrett and freshman backup point guard Brene Moseley as they combined for seven assists with two turnovers.
"I think I'm playing with a lot of confidence because my teammates have confidence in me, and they're getting me the ball in good position," said Hawkins, who set a Maryland single-game record with 24 rebounds in an 86-58 victory over Wake Forest on Jan. 19.
Hawkins had one of her least productive rebounding games in an 80-72 loss to Duke (22-3, 13-0) on Jan. 22. That she finished with only four rebounds underscored Maryland's overall substandard performance in that category against its archrival, so the focus in practice the past two days has been on reclaiming the inside the second time around.
In the first meeting at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Blue Devils outrebounded Maryland 41-30, including 16-11 offensively. The Terrapins, who are fourth in the country in rebounding margin (14.1), finished with their fewest rebounds in a game this season, and only sophomore forward Alyssa Thomas reached double figures.
"Just rebound and defend," said Thomas, the ACC's leading scorer at 17 points per game and Maryland's second-leading rebounder (7.4). "The last game we were in it all the way. We just have to do a better job in both those areas."