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Maryland women’s basketball team strengthens Big Ten lead with 94-62 rout of Minnesota

Maryland guard Diamond Miller, left, competes for a rebound with Minnesota forward Kadiatou Sissoko (30) and center Klarke Sconiers during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021, in College Park, Md. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Maryland guard Diamond Miller, left, competes for a rebound with Minnesota forward Kadiatou Sissoko (30) and center Klarke Sconiers during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021, in College Park, Md. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) (Julio Cortez/AP)

Coach Brenda Frese certainly wouldn’t want to oppose her Maryland women’s basketball team the way it’s playing right now.

The No. 9 Terps boosted their winning streak to five games with a dominant 94-62 win over Minnesota on Saturday, cementing their solitary position atop the Big Ten standings (12-1) and completing the season sweep.

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With just four regular season games and one home game remaining, Maryland couldn’t be in a better spot. After playing twice in the past three days, the Terps (16-2) continue their busy stretch with games Tuesday and Thursday.

“We need to have these kind of games because this is what you’re going to play in the Big Ten tournament as well as the NCAAs,” Frese said, “where it’s back-to-back games or play a game, a day in between, and play again. We need to be built for this. This timing is right.”

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With sophomores Ashley Owusu (24 points) and Diamond Miller (20 points) leading the charge, four Terps — Katie Benzan (17 points) and Chloe Bibby (10 points) scored in double digits Saturday.

Owusu, the team’s assists leader, also had a team-high eight assists and six rebounds along with sophomore Faith Masonius.

“Ashley continues to run this team,” Frese said.

Minnesota guard Jasmine Powell, who scored 22 points in the first meeting with Maryland, hit a 3-pointer, to give the Gophers and early lead. But Maryland quickly took control thanks to its diamond on the floor.

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In the first quarter, Miller stacked up nine points — one from long range — two more assists and two connections from the free throw line. Owusu’s make off Minnesota’s turnover sent the visitors reeling into a timeout, down 10-5. Coming out of it, Miller still wielded the power, firing from the perimeter to highlight a period in which the Terps outscored their guests 16-2.

“Diamond, we’ve really been working through trying to improve her game on so many levels, just the ownership. By far the most improved player in the league,” Frese said, “when you talk about what she brought to the table defensively, getting on the glass, the assists she’s making on top of her scoring.”

The 6-foot-3 sophomore feels more self-assured than she did in December. In earlier games, Miller struggled with fouls before halftime and having to sit for longer periods because of it.

On Saturday, Miller had just three fouls overall, the majority of which were taken late.

“I think I’m developing to be a really good player. I’m going to continue to grow,” Miller said. “I’m more confident in my abilities, playing really hard, not letting little things get to me.”

Minnesota made 41.7% of its first quarter shots, but its defense simply couldn’t move fast enough to keep up with the Terps offense. The Terps, 10-for-16 on field goals, led Minnesota 24-11 after one.

Maryland continued to be more assertive rebounding in the second quarter, holding a 21-11 edge in rebounds in the first half.

The Gophers mostly stayed with man-to-man coverage but ramped up their aggressiveness. While the Terps’ offensive production (54.8%) dipped, they earned more chances at the charity stripe (12-for-13 at halftime).

Miller and Benzan put up perfect numbers at the foul line, shooting 6-for-6 and 2-for-2, respectively. Owusu hit a team-high 10 of 11.

Minnesota guard Jasmine Powell (4) faces pressure from Maryland guard Ashley Owusu, center, and guard Katie Benzan during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021, in College Park, Md. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Minnesota guard Jasmine Powell (4) faces pressure from Maryland guard Ashley Owusu, center, and guard Katie Benzan during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021, in College Park, Md. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) (Julio Cortez/AP)

Down 49-25 at the half after a three-minute dry spell, Minnesota needed desperately to jump-start its offense. Instead, the Gophers’ production plummeted with only five baskets and they fell behind 70-40.

Maryland’s progression on defense is something Frese said separates them into an “elite level.”

“That’s where I’m really, really excited,” Frese said, “because now we’re playing both ends of the floor, which is what you’ve got to have for March.”

Minnesota mostly floundered beyond the arc, finishing 5-for-19 from 3-point range.

Maryland made nine 3-points with freshman guard Taisiya Kozlova, going 2-for-2.

But the third quarter wasn’t all kind to Maryland. Starter Mimi Collins left the floor after suffering an injury to the forehead. The 6-foot-3 Waldorf native averaged 10.1 points before Saturday’s tilt.

The Terps already lost two starters, guard Channise Lewis and freshman Angel Reese, to serious injuries this season that sidelined one, potentially both, for the year. Frese said there are no concussion worries at the minute but she will “continue to be evaluated.”

“She’s a tough kid,” Frese said. “ … It was a tough play, but we know she’ll be back.”

The University of Maryland canceled in-person classes for a week Saturday and installed a “sequester-in-place” due to rising coronavirus numbers on campus.

“Credit our players and our staff. They’ve kept their bubble tight. They’ve committed to one another. You can see that chemistry on the court because they spend so much time together because they have each other,” Frese said. “Then you definitely have to have some luck.”

IOWA@NO. 9 MARYLAND

Tuesday, 1 p.m.

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