Ask Kaila Charles how, as a sophomore, she's able to lead the Maryland women's basketball team in such diverse statistics as points per game, (18.1), rebounds per game (8.3) and blocks for the season (33), and she will most likely mention the unwavering support of her teammates.
Her humility is genuine, but make no mistake: The Washington area's 2015-16 All-Met Player of the Year has long been the backbone of this Maryland team, which she willed to a 67-54 win over No. 7 seed Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals on Friday with a team-high 24 points.
"I think it's definitely my teammates finding me when I'm open, and they're encouraging me to take shots," Charles said Friday, for perhaps the 12th time this season.
All season, Charles has helped patch over mistakes made by an inexperienced, shorthanded roster with pinpoint jumpers and effortless-looking defense. She did the same thing Friday night, kick-starting Maryland fledgling offense with back-to-back jumpers to end the fourth quarter, taking care of Indiana's best scorer and ball handler Tyra Buss on defense and sealing the win with four consecutive three throws to cap a 13-3 run at the end of the game.
"She's like a track athlete with high-tops on," Indiana coach Teri Moren said after the game.
Maryland Coach Brenda Frese knew Charles was going to be the team's go-to player before this season started; the issue, after guard Blair Watson tore her anterior cruciate ligament in January, has been finding a dependable supporting scorer to back up Charles night after night. On March 2, the Terps were still trying to solve that puzzle – at halftime against Indiana, Charles led with 14 points while no other Maryland player had more than six.
In addition to her 24 points on 9-of-18 shooting, Charles had seven rebounds and five assists to two turnovers even as she picked up a fourth foul with 8:49 left to play. Stephanie Jones, Channise Lewis and Brianna Fraser each added 10 points and Fraser led the team with eight rebounds, but they were slow to get going, and for much of the game the lack of support for Charles kept Indiana and Maryland neck and neck.
Freshman point guard Lewis had the Terps' only two 3-pointers of the night as senior Kristen Confroy, who is the most efficient 3-point shooter in the Big Ten, went 0-for-4 from deep. The quick-shooting Eleanna Christinaki had just four points on 2-of-9 shooting from the floor.
"It gave me a lot of confidence actually," Lewis said. "I was just reading the defender. She was going up on the screen, and I just took my shot, and it went in, and the second three, my teammates found me open, and I just shot it again with the same confidence."
What worked in Maryland's favor was that on Thursday night, Indiana beat Michigan State in quadruple overtime in the longest game in the history of the Big Ten Tournament, on both the men's and women's side. The Terps mixed in halfcourt and fullcourt presses on defense to further tire Indiana.
The Hoosier's best players, Buss and Amanda Cahill, each played 60 minutes against Michigan State. The game, which lasted nearly three hours, threw off Indiana's pregame routine – the players opted to rest more rather than do their normal walk-through – and had them out of energy by the end of the third quarter. Still, Indiana refused to use exhaustion as an excuse.
"I would never say this in front of our kids," Moren said, "It just looked like down the stretch we ran out of – we were running on low octane, and we didn't talk about that at all. We didn't want to feel like that was going to be our excuse for why our shots weren't falling or we weren't getting stops. But I thought you could tell, especially with [Buss and Cahill], that fatigue was finally setting in."
Cahill led the Hoosiers with 17 points and Buss scored 13 and had three assists to five turnovers.
The two teams went back-and-forth all night until Jones, aggressive as ever in the post, made a layup to make it 54-51 with 4:34 to play. Indiana made just one 3-pointer for the remainder of the game as Maryland finally pulled ahead. Charles scored six of the final 13 points.