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No. 6 Maryland women win second straight Big Ten title with rout of Minnesota

The Maryland women pose with the Big Ten championship trophy after defeating Minnesota, 110-77.
The Maryland women pose with the Big Ten championship trophy after defeating Minnesota, 110-77.(Gail Burton / AP)

The sea of hugs never seemed to end for Tierney Pfirman on Sunday. During every stoppage of play in the Maryland women's basketball team's senior-night game against Minnesota, one of her Terps teammates would embrace the senior, Aja Ellison or Chloe Pavlech holding Pfirman out on the court before she could walk over to the huddle with a wide smile across her face.

After an up-and-down four seasons in College Park, it was with good reason.

In her final regular-season game at Xfinity Center, Pfirman turned in the best performance of her career, with 29 points on 12-of-19 shooting and 13 rebounds, and the No. 6 Terps walloped the upset-minded Golden Gophers, 110-77, before an announced 11,428 at Xfinity Center. The win clinched their second straight Big Ten Conference regular-season title.

"It feels good," Pfirman said. "Without my teammates, I wouldn't have been able to do it. Them giving me the confidence to keep shooting the ball when it wasn't going in just makes you feel good. I couldn't have done it without them."

"She was a monster," coach Brenda Frese said.

Pfirman's previous career high of 17 came during her freshman season, in 2012, when she, center Malina Howard and guard Chloe Pavlech were thrust into extensive action after a flurry of injuries — including guard Brene Moseley's torn ACL — threatened to detail the Terps' season.

The nationally ranked Maryland women's basketball team has taken 6-year-old Ashlyn Barrett into its fold as she battles severe chronic illnesses.

More than three years later, the foursome took the court together for their final regular-season home game after careers filled with unique challenges. Pfirman and Moseley battled injuries. Pavlech and Howard had fluctuating playing time and production.

"Each and every one of these four have a story, and they all had to overcome adversity," Frese said. "For Tierney, it was injuries throughout her entire career, so just how fitting for her to be able to have a night like this for our seniors, to be able to go out like this in terms of everything they've meant to our program."

But through everything, the four seniors put together a wildly successful run in College Park. In Moseley's three healthy years, she has appeared in the Elite Eight and two Final Fours. Pfirman, Pavlech and Howard appeared in a Sweet 16 and two Final Fours. The group is 146-23 overall and 80-7 at Xfinity Center. They made their mark and once again are eyeing a deep postseason run.

And the seniors stepped up again against the Golden Gophers. Pavlech and Moseley combined for 16 assists, while Pavlech scored 12 points and Howard added eight to cap the 16th conference championship season in program history.

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"This one's special," Frese said. "This one I'm going to remember for a long time."

Entering Sunday's game against Minnesota (19-10, 11-7), Maryland (27-3, 16-2 Big Ten) knew it would have to shut down star guard Rachel Banham, who was averaging more than 38 points per game in February, including games of 60 and 52 points. Frese said the Terps were hoping to hold her under 30.

Banham set the Big Ten's single-season scoring record and displayed her wide arsenal, with spot-up 3-pointers and slicing drives to the basket. But she got into foul trouble early, sat for a period in the first half and finished with 26 points.

Maryland led Minnesota 23-17 when Banham headed to the bench with 1:04 left in the first quarter with her second foul. The Golden Gophers chipped away and got to within two points of the Terps, but when Banham returned with 4:44 left in the second quarter, Maryland led 37-25.

The closest Minnesota got down the stretch was 17 points, with about seven minutes left in the third quarter, but Maryland promptly went on a 10-0 run over the next two minutes to put the game out of reach. The Terps' lead stretched to as many as 42 in the fourth quarter.

"When you have a player like Rachel Banham, who's going to play at the next level, they're never out of the game," Frese said. "I thought we did a great job in terms of staying locked in."

Maryland clinched the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament and won't have to play until Friday's quarterfinals. But a host of formidable opponents remain, including No. 5 Ohio State, which gave the Terps their two conference losses this season.

Maryland, though, closed the season on a six-game winning streak, and is looking forward to duplicating the postseason success of the past two seasons, both of which ended in the Final Four.

"It gives us a lot of momentum going into the tournament," Howard said. "I think every game, there's stuff to learn from, so we'll definitely go back and work on it and learn from anything and get ready for the tournament. I think it was a great win. We have a lot more to go."

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