The Maryland women's basketball team is stocked with players capable of scoring in bunches. What coach Brenda Frese appreciated most, though, after the third-ranked Terps' 96-65 win against Northwestern was defense.
Maryland (15-1, 3-0) was particularly stingy in the first half when it limited the Wildcats to 22 points and 27 percent shooting in its Big Ten Conference home opener on a snowy Saturday. The Terps remained undefeated against Northwestern (13-4, 2-2) in six all-time meetings since joining the conference three seasons ago.
"I thought we got better today, especially on the defensive end," Frese said. "It's something that we've spent a lot of time talking about where we really want to improve. I thought we came out to start the game [forcing] three straight turnovers, we were really aggressive, which led to our confidence on the offensive end."
The Terps, one of two Big Ten teams without a conference loss, forced 10 first-half turnovers that contributed to a 10-0 flurry in the second quarter for a 41-16 cushion with 4:11 to go until halftime. All three of Maryland's field goals during that stretch came from beyond the 3-point arc, including two by Shatori Walker-Kimbrough.
The senior guard and two-time All-Big Ten first-team selection finished with a team-high 18 points, making three of seven from 3-point range, to go along with three rebounds and three steals. Walker-Kimbrough was among five Maryland players to score in double figures in front of an announced 5,214 at Xfinity Center.
Senior center Brionna Jones (Aberdeen) earned her sixth consecutive double double with 15 points and a game-high 13 rebounds, part of Maryland's 47-30 advantage in that category, including 17-8 offensively. Freshman point guard Destiny Slocum scored 11 of her 16 points in the first half, outplaying Northwestern counterpart Ashley Deary, a senior who leads the Big Ten in assists.
Deary entered averaging 11.5 points but scored just two on 1-for-3 shooting. She also committed six of the Wildcats' 18 turnovers in a second straight unproductive game against Maryland. In the teams' previous meeting, an 83-62 Terps victory in the Big Ten tournament semifinals March 5, Deary missed all 14 of her field-goal attempts.
"She's a really good player," Slocum said, "but every single day in practice I go against someone that's the exact same, so I think my preparation was good, and our team preparation was really good for her."
In a game it led for all but 22 seconds, Maryland also held Wildcats leading scorer Nia Coffey without a field goal in the first half. The senior forward who's third in the conference in scoring finished with 22 points, the majority coming with the outcome all but decided.
Coffey fouled out with 8:15 left in the fourth quarter and Maryland ahead 78-52.
"She's obviously the best player in their team, so you want to limit her touches and her shot attempts," Walker-Kimbrough said. "She showed how good she was in the second half, and I thought we got a little bit relaxed on her. Looking further, we have to be able to key in on those things."
The Terps shot 10-for-24 (42 percent) from beyond the arc for their most 3-pointers made this season in a conference game. Half of those came in the second quarter, enabling Maryland to deliver the knockout blow.
An 11-2 burst in the first quarter gave Maryland its first double-digit lead. Slocum had the first two baskets in that time, and freshman center Brianna Frasier followed with a three-point play. On Northwestern's ensuing possession, Terps reserve point guard Ieshia Small (14 points) stole the ball from Deary and found Walker-Kimbrough for a layup for a 19-7 lead.
Northwestern coach Joe McKeown called timeout moments later, but the Terps continued to apply pressure into the second quarter.
"I think we're a much better team than we showed, so we're going to have to figure out a way, if we play them again, to attack them offensively, and that's where struggled," said McKeown, who spent 19 seasons at George Washington and directed the Colonials to 15 NCAA tournament berths. "They shot the ball really well in the first half, and they shot the ball really well off offensive rebounds."