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Maryland women rally after slow start, advance to Big Ten tourney semifinals

Maryland's Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (32) puts up a shot against Iowa's Tania Davis (11) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big Ten Conference tournament Friday, March 4, 2016, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Maryland's Shatori Walker-Kimbrough (32) puts up a shot against Iowa's Tania Davis (11) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at the Big Ten Conference tournament Friday, March 4, 2016, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings) (Darron Cummings / AP)

As the top seed in the Big Ten Conference women's basketball tournament, fifth-ranked Maryland had the supposed luxury of playing the first game in Friday's quarterfinals, meaning more time for rest and preparation should the Terrapins advance.

The noon start against No. 9 seed Iowa turned out not to be exactly ideal, though, when travel complications delayed the team's arrival to the Circle City until late Thursday night, well after originally scheduled. Maryland also had not set foot on the court at Bankers Life Fieldhouse until pregame warm-ups or played at all in five days.

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So it was that the Terps found themselves trailing by double figures early and in a bit of an offensive rut. But as Maryland eventually eased into a scoring rhythm, masterful defense — just one field goal allowed — during the second quarter largely enabled the Terps to move in front for good on the way to a 75-55 victory.

"That was an awesome defensive effort," Maryland senior point guard Chloe Pavlech said. "I thought everyone was locked in each possession. We all looked at the scoreboard and saw we were down by 10 and realized, 'Guys, we don't want to go home.' We obviously knew Iowa was going to come out hard, but to have that great of a defensive effort shows what we can really do."

The reigning Big Ten tournament champions won their seventh consecutive game and beat the Hawkeyes for a third straight time, including twice this season. Maryland (28-3) next faces No. 12 seed Northwestern in Saturday's semifinals.

Junior center Brionna Jones led the Terps with 23 points and a game-high 15 rebounds, 10 of them offensive, for her 15th double-double this season and the 30th of her career. The two-time first-team all-Big Ten selection made 10 of 18 field goals and helped Maryland own a 42-25 rebounding margin, including 28-9 in the second half, and 50-18 on points in the paint.

Junior guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, also first-team all-Big Ten the past two seasons, had 23 points as well with eight rebounds and four steals that contributed to Maryland's 30-15 buffer in points off turnovers. The Hawkeyes (19-13) committed 22 turnovers in losing for the first time in three games.

"We just started mixing it up a little bit, just throwing different wrinkles at them, trying to make them uncomfortable," Walker-Kimbrough said of the defensive showing that limited Iowa to nine field goals after the first quarter. "They came out red hot. They were comfortable coming out, stepping into their shots, hitting open shots. We wanted to make sure we contested all their shots."

The closest Iowa got in the fourth quarter was 59-53 with 6 minutes 57 seconds left, but the Terps put the outcome to rest on the heels of a 10-0 run. Half of those points came courtesy of Jones, who entered with the best field goal percentage (.679) in the country.

Ahead by nine following two free throws to start the second half, Maryland weathered five straight points by Iowa prior to rebuilding the lead to 46-37. The Hawkeyes brought the margin back to 46-41, but more defensive pressure forced a series of turnovers, allowing Maryland to push the ball in transition.

The result was 11 consecutive points, 10 of which came in the paint, for a 57-41 advantage. Walker-Kimbrough got it going with a driving layup, and Jones and senior forward Malina Howard scored underneath.

Howard made 1 of 2 from the free throw line, and the Terrapins had their largest lead to that point when senior forward Tierney Pfirman collected an offensive rebound and passed to Walker-Kimbrough for a layup. Still Iowa countered, this time with a pair of 3-pointers and a three-point play overlapping the third and fourth quarters before the Terps pulled away.

Iowa opened at a blistering pace, shooting 75 in the first quarter to forge a 28-18 lead. The Hawkeyes, who scored a mild upset of eighth-seeded Michigan to reach the quarterfinals, made eight straight field goals during a 16-6 burst.

The surge didn't bother Maryland coach Brenda Frese enough to use a timeout, and her players recovered on their own by scoring the first 12 points of the second quarter, including a pair of layups from Walker-Kimbrough that delivered the Terrapins their first lead since shortly after tip-off. Walker-Kimbrough added a three-point play, and Maryland was in front, 35-30.

"I thought we did a much better job of getting used to the jitters and coming ready to play in the second quarter," Frese said. "Our defense, our rebounding improved. We were down in our rebounding at that point, so just the way we were able to play in the second quarter was huge."

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