For all the attention given to the heralded freshman class on the fourth-ranked Maryland women’s basketball team, the Terps’ fortunes this season more often have depended on the performance of their two seniors, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and Brionna Jones.
That duo combined for nearly half of second-seeded Maryland’s points during a 92-80 win against No 10 seed Minnesota on Friday night in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. With their third victory over Minnesota this season, the Terps (28-2) advanced to tonight’s semifinals to face sixth-seeded Michigan State, which beat third-seeded Michigan, 74-64, later Friday night.
Walker-Kimbrough’s game-high 28 points against the Golden Gophers (15-16) included going 6-for-8 from beyond the arc, matching her career high for most 3-pointers made. The consensus All-Big Ten first-team selection had 19 second-half points and made 11 of 15 shots (73 percent) overall with three rebounds and three assists for the two-time reigning tournament champions.
“My teammates kept finding me and giving me great confidence,” Walker-Kimbrough said after her fourth consecutive game with at least 22 points. “I air-balled [a shot] in the first half. Kristen [Confroy] looked at me and told me to keep shooting. Coming in at halftime, Ieshia [Small] said, ‘Let the thing fly,’ so I let things fly.”
Jones, also consensus first-team all-Big Ten, had 14 points and a game-high 13 rebounds for her conference-leading 21st double double this season. She was the only Maryland player with more than six rebounds in the rare game when Maryland found itself outrebounded, 36-35.
It was just the second time this season Maryland has finished at a rebounding deficit. The Terps entered second in Division I in rebounding margin (+16.1) and outrebounded Minnesota 46-30 in the teams’ most recent meeting in the regular-season finale Sunday in College Park.
Despite allowing the Golden Gophers to shoot 53 percent in the second half, Maryland gained its largest separation of the game, 87-64, with 4:35 left in the fourth quarter on the heels of Walker-Kimbrough’s final 3-pointer, Jones’s three-point play and Confroy’s layup.
“It feels good to have one under our belt to get our flow back and just getting prepared for the next game,” Jones said.
Maryland made 35 of 67 field-goal attempts, marking the fourth time in five games it has shot at least 52 percent. The Terps also went 11-for-21 from 3-point range for their most efficient showing from beyond the arc this season against a Big Ten opponent.
Ahead by 18 with 4:39 remaining in the third quarter, Maryland was unable to shake the Golden Gophers despite the best efforts of Walker-Kimbrough. The most outstanding player in last season’s Big Ten tournament scored 16 points in the quarter, making all four of her 3-pointers, two of which came from nearly identical spots in the right corner.
But Minnesota rallied behind a 10-3 surge to trim the margin to 66-55 with 1:26 to play in the third quarter, leading Terps coach Brenda Frese to call timeout. Maryland then closed the quarter by scoring six of the final eight points to establish momentum that carried over into the final period.
A 47-33 halftime lead for the Terps began to unfold after Frese called a timeout with 7:04 left in the second quarter. At that point, Minnesota had strung together seven points in a row to draw within 31-25, the closest the Golden Gophers had been since early in the first quarter.
Out of the stoppage, Walker-Kimbrough hit a jumper, Confroy made a driving layup, and freshman guard Kaila Charles (15 points, six rebounds) collected a rebound off her own miss and scored on the putback for a 37-26 cushion. The Terps expanded their advantage to 43-28 with 3-pointers from freshman point guard Destiny Slocum and Confroy.
Stifling defense carried Maryland in the first quarter. The Terps forced eight turnovers that led to 11 points, repeatedly trapping Minnesota players near the midcourt line. The sudden changes in possession allowed Maryland clear paths to the basket during an 11-0 barrage that included a three-point play from Charles.
A closing kick in which Maryland outscored the Golden Gophers 10-2 produced a 27-14 lead at the end of the first quarter. Small punctuated the push by swishing a 3-pointer from well beyond the arc with one second to go.
“I think we can give a better effort defensively and rebounding the basketball,” Frese said while sitting on the podium with Walker-Kimbrough, Jones and Charles during the postgame news conference. “I know how much these guys pride themselves in both areas, so I know that we’ll bounce back in terms of playing better on both ends.”