COLLEGE PARK — The most meaningful game of the regular season for the Maryland women's basketball team takes place next week, with the Big Ten championship on the line in a showdown against nemesis Ohio State.
The second-ranked Terrapins had one final tune-up before then, and visiting Wisconsin didn't stand a chance on Wednesday night, even with Maryland playing shorthanded.
An 89-40 victory was never in doubt after the Terrapins scored the first 16 points on the way to remaining in first place in the Big Ten with two games left until the conference tournament. Maryland (26-1, 14-0) can clinch its third straight conference regular season title by beating the No. 12 Buckeyes — who swept the regular season series last year — Monday night in Columbus.
By then, the Terrapins presumably will have back starting point guard Destiny Slocum, who is first in the Big Ten in assists in conference games and second overall. The freshman sat out against the Badgers with an illness, but Maryland coasted anyway, with redshirt junior Ieshia Small, a transfer from Baylor, as the primary ballhandler.
Though Ohio State might have been on the mind, it was never mentioned.
"We didn't even bring it up," Maryland coach Brenda Frese said when asked if she reminded her players not to look past last-place Wisconsin. "When you kind of have the pulse of your team, I think they understand the value of every game. They know what's ahead, but they also understand that game doesn't matter if you don't care of the game in front of you."
Senior guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough led Maryland with a game-high 22 points against the Badgers (6-20, 1-12) before coming out for good with 7:13 left in the fourth quarter. The two-time all-Big Ten first-team selection made eight of nine shots in her fourth-straight game scoring at least 20 points and added five steals, also a game high, in addition to three rebounds.
Senior center Brionna Jones, a leading contender for Big Ten player of the year, added 16 points and 11 rebounds for her conference-leading 19th double-double to help Maryland extend its best start in program history. The Terrapins' only loss this season was to top-ranked Connecticut, 87-81, on Dec. 29 in College Park.
Maryland was just the second opponent to get within single digits of the Huskies during their 100-game winning streak.
On Wednesday, Maryland limited the Badgers to two field goals in the first quarter while rolling to an 18-5 lead. The Terrapins followed with 13 consecutive points to open the second quarter, and the lead expanded to 37-7 with 5:10 remaining until halftime on a driving layup and three-pointer from Walker-Kimbrough and 1 of 2 free throws by guard Kaila Charles (15 points, six rebounds).
"No matter who we play, we're just trying to focus on ourselves, and we're trying to get better each and every day in practice and in the game," Walker-Kimbrough said. "I think that's our next step on offense and defense, just maintaining that consistency and maintaining that energy."
The lopsided margin allowed Frese to substitute liberally throughout the final three quarters. Every available member of the roster played in the first half, and all but one had scored by the final buzzer in Maryland's penultimate home game of the regular season.
Late in the third quarter, for instance, Frese went with a lineup that included four freshmen in Charles, guards Blair Watson and Sarah Myers and forward Stephanie Jones, younger sister of Brionna.
Freshman forward Courtney Fredrickson was the only Wisconsin player to score in double figures, finishing with 14 points.
The Badgers are rebuilding under first-year coach Jonathan Tsipis, who spent the previous four seasons at George Washington. The former Notre Dame assistant was selected Atlantic 10 coach of the year in 2015 and directed the Colonials to consecutive NCAA tournament appearances as well as three straight 20-win seasons.
"So much of what we're trying to do on a daily basis is competing," Tsipis said. "You talk about culture, that part of what we will not live by, and I think that part as you go through the season, I've been really proud of how our kids competed. I don't think we were at that level tonight. I think there was some awe factor."