COLLEGE PARK — To hand Iowa a crushing loss, Maryland women’s basketball coach Brenda Frese borrowed a strategy from two states over: a “bubblegum” defense.
“It came from the movie 'Hoosiers,’” Frese said. “We talked about that you should be able to play so hard with your ball pressure that you should be able to tell what kind of bubblegum they’re chewing.”
In their second meeting with the No. 17 Hawkeyes this season, the No. 10 Terps treated the team that inspired its unbeaten run to a beatdown, 93-59, on Thursday night, giving Maryland (21-4, 12-2) sole ownership of first place in the Big Ten.
No Iowa women’s basketball player has ever emerged from Xfinity Center with a victory. Because of that, and because of recent history with the Hawkeyes, Thursday’s game was a matter of pride for the Terps. Maryland’s last loss came at Iowa’s hands at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Jan. 9, 66-61.
So the burgeoning rivals made it hurt, scoring more points than anyone had yet against Iowa while also limiting the Hawkeyes to their fewest of the season.
The outcome also has personal significance for Frese, whose family still resides in Cedar Rapids and can hold their heads high over their Iowa-supporting neighbors.
“I’m so proud, and I told them before the game the courage it’s taken from that loss on Jan. 9 to where they are now. It’s completely them," Frese said. "They’ve bought in. When you look at today, this is what it looks like: Maryland basketball. Defense, transition offense, sharing the basketball. Now, seeing how they elite they are and that you want to keep going on this.”
Five Maryland players recorded double figures, led by senior guard Kaila Charles, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Week, who netted a game-high 21 points, including the first six.
“I thought Kaila Charles showed the All-American she is. She set the tone from the tip,” Frese said. “From the minute she’s gotten here, when you look at how she leads us day in and day out, and her numbers in conference play only showed who the best player in the conference is in this game.”
Charles also reached her 1,900th career point Thursday, priming her to potentially leave College Park as a member of a small group of Maryland women’s players who scored 2,000.
“It means my teammates have done a great job finding me, encouraging to play hard," Charles said. "It means a lot to me.”
It wasn’t as if Iowa (20-5, 11-3) didn’t know how to beat this Maryland team. They had defeated the Terps three straight times, including in the Big Ten tournament last March.
In the teams’ previous meeting, Iowa committed 23 turnovers, while Maryland had 22. The key difference between January’s slopfest and Thursday night’s game was who could keep a grip of the ball — and who, certainly, could not.
Defense smothered the Hawkeyes, forcing 27 turnovers — including 23 in the first three quarters — versus Maryland’s 14. The Terps piled up 37 points off those free possessions.
“That’s a really good Iowa team, if you talk about those veteran senior guards. If anything, this should give us a tremendous amount of confidence,” Frese said.
A better shooting percentage (.557) for Maryland than the one it managed in its last loss on Jan. 9 (.310) didn’t hurt either.
After a brief period period in which Iowa kept the game close, trailing the Terps 11-8, the visitors began to slip.
Maryland stalked the Hawkeyes like a pack of hunting dogs, hounding the visitors in the paint they’d previously felt so comfortable in. Iowa’s shot production plummeted, dropping from 14 points in the first quarter to just nine in the second, off the same number of attempts (13).
“I thought just the tenacity defensively, gosh, we were getting into traps that I hadn’t seen us be that aggressive with, locking them down,” Frese said. "I thought we really sent a message early in that first quarter with our defense. You can tell, we’re having a lot of fun with the way we’re playing and turning people over.
After a media timeout, the Terps pressured Iowa into its first of two shot-clock violations before halftime.
“It gets us hyped up, it gives us energy,” Charles said. “To have them in the first quarter, we wanted to punch first. That starts with our defense, and it leads to our offense.”
Against an Iowa offense in disarray, Maryland thrived (55.6% shooting first half), with guard Ashley Owusu (17 points, 10 assists) setting the terms of the rout.
The freshman rolled off the bench for 10 points by the end of the first quarter, splitting through traffic for a backdoor layup that would precede sophomore Taylor Mikesell’s second of three 3-pointers before the end of the quarter and four before the half.
The Hawkeyes made an effort to keep matters, at the very least, within single digits with a 3-pointer by Tomi Taiwo off the bench, but Owusu wasn’t feeling a close game.
As the final seconds ticked down, the freshman marched towards the basket, zigzagged around Iowa defenders and drained a shot before the buzzer that cemented a double-digit Maryland lead, 25-14.
“She’s so dynamic," Frese said of Owusu, who was just named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week for the third time. "As a freshman in our league, I’d like to see who can match her.”
The Hawkeyes’ hopes to reset in the second quarter were met like a New Year’s resolution in February — abysmally. As the Terps offense cruised toward its 20-point-plus lead, Iowa’s could barely breathe against a defense that would not let up. Hawkeyes shooters scanned desperately for an opening, eventually dumping a lost-cause pass into senior Kathleen Doyle’s hands, who glanced up at four seconds on the shot clock and took a desperate heave, frustration crackling on her face.
“We are usually really good at breaking presses,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “This is one of the very few times that we’ve had trouble with it. I’m a little surprised by it.”
The Terps grabbed ownership of every inch of the court in the first half, doubling the visitors 24-12 on points in the paint and taking a 10-4 edge on fast breaks. Of Iowa’s first dozen turnovers, the Terps capitalized for 18 points, namely thanks to senior Blair Watson, who pick-pocketed Iowa shooters every chance she got, finishing with five steals.
Facing a 48-23 halftime deficit, Iowa was writing its own rout into drying concrete.
In the midst, the tallest figure on the floor stood even taller because she got a little mean.
Six-foot-5 forward Shakira Austin carried only two points into the halftime break. By the time Iowa, already crushed under the weight of a 30-point deficit, called its mid-third-quarter timeout, Austin had upped her total to 15.
Combined with senior forward Stephanie Jones (16 points), who went a perfect 8-for-8 from the field, the Terps had endless options to throw against the Hawkeyes.
Austin, who finished with 20 points, capped off her third-quarter showstopper by stripping Iowa starter Makenzie Meyer for her first steal and flipping the ball in for basket — a performance that earned her a standing ovation as she exited the floor.
“The third quarter is just my quarter," Austin said. "I felt like I was a lot more patient. My footwork was everywhere it needs to be. Just being aggressive, my teammates, they kept finding me.”
The Hawkeyes managed to lock down their ball security in the final 10 minutes, but couldn’t erase the damage the early turnovers had done.
“This win doesn’t mean anything if we don’t continue to play the right way,” Frese said, “but this team has been practicing playing the right way. I love when they set the bar, they set it higher. We don’t have everyone 100 percent there, so for us to be the best version of us, we need all nine playing at a really high level.”
Maryland will next venture to State College on Sunday to take on Penn State at 2 p.m.
No. 10 Maryland@Penn State
Sunday, 2 p.m.