But instead of giving Iowa a chance, the Terps showcased Shakira Austin. The 6-foot-5 sophomore was everywhere — forcing a turnover at midcourt and charging in for a layup, shaking her defender to score in the paint, pulling up for a jumper on the other side of the key.
Austin scored Maryland’s first 11 points of the third quarter — seven of which came before the Hawkeyes had their first point of the second half — and slammed the door on a 93-59 win that had gotten out of hand long before then.
Smothering defense, a strong start from the Terps’ guards and a strong finish from their bigs made what should have been a juicy battle for first place in the Big Ten no contest at all for Maryland (21-4, 12-2 Big Ten) on Thursday at Xfinity Center. The Terps not only grabbed the top spot in the conference, they also notched their 10th consecutive win and got a little revenge for a road loss at Iowa (20-5, 11-3) on Jan. 9.
“Wow. That was a lot of fun,” Maryland Coach Brenda Frese said. “. . . This was a game that I knew they’d be ready to play. It was a very prideful game for us. You could see it building up to how we’ve been playing and our practices and where this team’s at.”
The matchup provided a chance for Maryland to show how far it has come since that early January loss in Iowa City.
Maryland certainly showed its progress, but the game was no gritty battle. Iowa had its lowest-scoring game of the season and allowed its most points. The Hawkeyes turned the ball over a season-high 27 times (which the Terps turned into 37 points) and trailed by 40 with four minutes left in the game. At one point in the third quarter, the Hawkeyes had 21 turnovers in 46 possessions.
“My family can now walk around Cedar Rapids and kind of have some bragging rights where they had to take a couple hits the last time,” said Frese, an Iowa native.
The Terps came out playing aggressive defense, and the game was competitive for about five minutes until the first timeout.
Then Maryland scored seven straight points in 41 seconds — two buckets from freshman point guard Ashley Owusu and a three-pointer from sophomore guard Taylor Mikesell — and Iowa was shaken.
The Hawkeyes shot 40 percent from the field, but the issue was they couldn’t get around the Terps’ defense. They had 50 attempted field goals to Maryland’s 70 and suffered three shot clock violations in the first half.
Center Monika Czinano had 15 points. Preseason All-Big Ten selection Kathleen Doyle, who scored 21 against the Terps the first time around, had 10.
“Right from the get, we needed to be a little more aggressive,” Czinano said. “That’s what we were lacking today. Credit to Maryland. They came out firing, and we needed to get some more defensive stops in the beginning.”
Senior guard Kaila Charles led five scorers in double figures with 21 points, passing 1,900 for her career, and grabbed nine rebounds. She, Mikesell (12 points) and Owusu (17 points, 10 assists) helped Maryland dominate the first half before letting the Terps’ forwards finish the job.
Austin had 20 points, including 13 in the third quarter, seven rebounds and five assists. Senior forward Stephanie Jones had 16 points, making all eight of her field goal attempts.
“I like this mean Shakira. She was angry. She was dynamic. She just separated herself tonight and was so aggressive,” Frese said. “I can handle misses when you’re going to the rim that hard. Then when you talk about Steph, 8 for 8 from the field. Are you kidding me, like, Miss Efficiency? That duo with the two of them, they didn’t have an answer.”
“I feel like the third quarter is just my quarter lately,” Austin said, agreeing with Frese that she played like a bully. “I get it from my dad. He’s like, ‘I wish you would play mean from the jump.’ I’m like: ‘It doesn’t work like that sometimes. I’m going to try.’ ”
Austin doesn’t have much time left; the Terps have four games remaining in the regular season before the start of the Big Ten tournament. Frese said the timing of Thursday’s win — and taking over first place in the conference — couldn’t have been better as the postseason nears.
“I’m just so proud. The courage that it’s taken from that loss on Jan. 9 to where they are now — it’s completely them,” Frese said. “. . . We didn’t lose our minds down there at Iowa. We understood. They taught us a lesson, and, you know, everybody was going to have to come back through Xfinity.”