“That’s what separates this team from all the rest right now,” Maryland Coach Brenda Frese said. “They’re making it look so easy when it’s really not. And we’re doing it during a pandemic and with so many new faces.
“The thing I appreciate the most is just the unselfishness. They just want to win. They’re hungry to be great. They’re easy to coach and want all the success that they can possibly have.”
The successes have piled up for the Terps (20-2, 16-1 Big Ten) as they continue on their record-setting pace. The team boasts the No. 1 scoring offense in the nation and is on pace to break the program record of 89.7 points per game set during the 1977-78 season. Frese became the winningest coach in program history, surpassing Chris Weller, and has been named a semifinalist for Naismith coach of the year. Sophomore Ashley Owusu is one of five finalists for the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award given to the top shooting guard in Division I.
When Wednesday began, Maryland ranked in the top 10 in the nation in three-point percentage (No. 2), assist-to-turnover ratio (No. 2), free throw percentage (No. 5), field goal percentage (No. 6), assists (No. 8) and scoring margin (No. 8). That was before another dominant performance.
Maryland featured the No. 2 defense in the Big Ten last season, and that facet has improved down the stretch in 2021. But the offense, which is averaging nearly nine more points per game, is much more dangerous than the one that led the league at the end of 2019-20. All of this after losing all five starters and five of the top six scorers from last season.
The victory over the Wolverines was probably the most impressive win of the season considering Michigan was the Terps’ highest-ranked opponent, was playing at home and was desperate for a win to stay alive for a piece of the conference championship. National player of the year candidate Naz Hillmon, the nation’s No. 3 scorer at 25.8 points per game, was swarmed defensively and had just eight points at halftime on three shots. She finished with 19, with nine coming from the free throw line.
“We talked about it being our toughest game so far,” Frese said. “Michigan’s a top-16 team. They’re super, super talented. Our mentality from the tip, we were ready to go.
“I think they’ve been making statement wins here lately since the Ohio State game [Jan. 25]. They’re really on a mission.”
The NCAA’s Division I women’s basketball committee released its top 16 rankings Sunday and listed Maryland at No. 6, and that was before road wins over Northwestern and Michigan. The Terps have certainly made their case for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament by losing just once since the end of November and washing over their opponents. The 63 points for Michigan were the second fewest it has scored this season.
“Just watch this team play,” Frese said about a No. 1 seed. “If you did the eyeball test and you watched this team play and the way they’re scoring and defending and coming together.”
The Terrapins will open the Big Ten tournament with a bye to the quarterfinals and will play at 11 a.m. Thursday.
Owusu scored a game-high 22 points to go along with five rebounds and three assists. She had the highlight of the game shortly before halftime with a Euro-step through defenders in transition leading to a reverse, hanging layup. Diamond Miller posted 17 points, nine rebounds and two assists, while Faith Masonius added 12 points.
Owusu downplayed the layup, but Frese called it a “ ‘SportsCenter’ top 10.”
Leigha Brown finished with 14 points and six rebounds for Michigan, and Akienreh Johnson added 11 points.
“Maryland is a great team,” Michigan Coach Kim Barnes Arico said. “They have pieces at every spot. They have great shooters. They have great inside. They have great length. And they’re disruptive on the defensive end, which allows them to score some easy buckets on the offensive end.
“That team has a chance to make a championship run in the NCAA tournament, for sure.”
The Terps’ early pressure that forced turnovers and shot-clock violations set the tone for the day, and Maryland scored a season-high 29 points off the Wolverines’ 21 turnovers. The Terps shot 56.7 percent in the first half, compared with 40 percent for Michigan, as they built a 20-point lead in the first 20 minutes. Katie Benzan hit a quick three to open the game, and the Terps built a 25-8 lead.
The regular season closes at Xfinity Center on Saturday when Maryland hosts Penn State at 3 p.m.
“This feeling never gets old,” Miller said about clinching a share of the title.
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