COLLEGE PARK — In the aftermath of the Maryland women’s basketball team’s most convincing victory of the season, power forward Chloe Bibby said the Terps still had room to improve.
“When we get our defense in lockdown, it’s just so much fun to play with and I think everyone feeds off that energy,” the senior transfer from Mississippi State said. “If we’re locked in, I don’t really think anyone can beat us. But as Coach B [Brenda Frese] said, we’ve got to get consistent with it. I think until we can go 40 minutes of proper defense, we still have some ways to go. As I said, we’re getting there, but that’s just the missing piece right now.”
Leave it to No. 9 Maryland to scrutinize an overwhelming performance in a 103-58 thumping of visiting Illinois at the Xfinity Center on Wednesday afternoon.
The 45-point margin of victory was the Terps’ largest this season, eclipsing a 42-point rout of James Madison on Dec. 19. It was also their most lopsided win since March 1, 2020, when they walloped Minnesota, 99-44.
Senior shooting guard Katie Benzan, a Harvard transfer, led all scorers with 22 points on 6-for-12 shooting from 3-point range after scoring a season-low two points in a 95-73 demolition at Nebraska on Sunday. With 20 points and nine rebounds, Bibby just missed out on her fourth double double of the season, while sophomore point guard Ashley Owusu added 17 points, seven assists and six rebounds for Maryland (15-2, 11-1 Big Ten), which collected its fourth consecutive victory.
As critical as Bibby was, the Terps outclassed the Fighting Illini in nearly every major department. They thrived on rebounds (53-37), assists (24-11) and points in the paint (42-20), which did not go unnoticed by Frese, who became the program’s all-time winningest coach with her 500th victory on Sunday.
“Just dominated all four quarters to win, dominated in so many statistical categories,” she said. “We were disappointed in our rebounding to only be up one at halftime, and we finished the game at plus-16. We had 24 assists with 38 baskets. So we were really unselfish. So there were a lot of great things to be able to build on as we continue to work through conference play.”
Maryland was relentless from the start. In Illinois’ first seven possessions, the Fighting Illini turned the ball over four times, and the Terps made three steals. Maryland took advantage by scoring the game’s first 10 points.
Illinois finished the game committing 24 turnovers, which Maryland converted into 32 points. Frese said she was pleased to see the team play as it did against the Cornhuskers on Sunday.
“I thought we kind of took off where we left at Nebraska,” she said. “I thought our start was tremendous. We were really aggressive. I think we forced them into nine turnovers to start. I just really loved our aggressiveness and our effort.”
The Fighting Illini did not take their first shot until the 6:34 mark of the first quarter when sophomore point guard Jeanae Terry floated an airball into the hands of Terps redshirt sophomore small forward Mimi Collins. And even when they appeared to gain an upper hand, they quickly squandered it.
Case in point: redshirt junior center Eva Rubin drew a foul on Collins while fighting for a rebound in the paint. But Rubin, who had fallen to the floor, took umbrage with Collins’ physicality, stood up, and began barking at Collins.
Players separated the two, and during an ensuing timeout, officials reviewed video and assessed Rubin with a technical foul, which led to Benzan sinking two free throws at the 4:59 mark for a 17-2 advantage.
Benzan, who had been held to less than 10 points only twice this season before Sunday’s showing at Nebraska, had 19 points in the first half. She said she took Frese’s daily message of being aggressive to heart.
“Coach always says that we want to give the first punch right away, and I just really embodied that mentality today,” she said. “And I’m lucky enough to play with such a good point guard in Ashley that she finds me when I’m open. So today was all the things that Nebraska wasn’t. Some days it will fall, some days it does not. But as a team, we punched first and dominated.”
Frese declined to characterize Benzan’s outing as “a bounce-back game.”
“I think she spoils us,” she said with a laugh. “We’re like, ‘What’s wrong?’ when the shots aren’t going in. But I love the fact that she won’t force shots and plays within the flow of the game. She just continued to play the right way. I thought our team did a much better job of finding her, finding her with some easy and aggressive kicks to her. But I thought she was also really confident coming off the ball screens and really taking advantage of the shot selection that she had.”
The 6-foot-1 Bibby and 6-3 Collins, who contributed nine points, eight rebounds and four steals, helped Maryland exert its strength in the lane. Bibby hinted that they might have been more productive if officials had called a few more fouls.
“It’s a battle,” she said. “But that’s why we practice every day. Mimi and I, we’re going against each other as well as [6-1 sophomore forward] Faith [Masonius] and ‘Bird’ [6-3 senior forward Alaysia Styles], and that competitive spirit and that toughness in practice is what we see in the games. So today, we were able to finish with some no-calls, finish with toughness. I think it was good to see, but that’s what we need to do. We need to finish through that contact going into March.”
Sophomore guard Jada Peebles paced Illinois (3-14, 1-13) with 18 points, and freshman guard Aaliyah Nye came off the bench to provide 11 points, three rebounds and two assists. But the Fighting Illini dropped their third straight game and have yet to top Maryland in 12 all-time meetings.