COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP)
Riding a five-game winning streak and closing in on its customary perch atop the Big Ten standings, the 17th-ranked Maryland women’s basketball team turned around its season with a minimum of assistance from fiery coach Brenda Frese.
After a 66-61 loss at Iowa on Jan. 9 dropped the Terrapins to 2-2 in the league, the players decided it was time to make this a team worthy of its stature as a preseason No. 4 in the AP poll and overwhelming favorite to win the Big Ten.
“We don’t ever sit and watch an entire game like that on film. I’m not the kind of coach who punishes like that,” said Frese, now in her 18th season at Maryland. “But they asked on that road trip if they could watch the entire (Iowa) game themselves. That’s the first team to ever want to do that. Since then, they’re a lot more chattier and confident, which is awesome to see.”
The resurgence began with a 77-49 rout of then-No. 24 Michigan on the road. Blowout victories over Nebraska, Indiana and Illinois followed before Maryland beat Northwestern 70-61 on Sunday, avenging an 81-58 loss on New Year’s Eve.
“Really, since the Iowa game it’s become a player-led team,” Frese said. “You can just feel it every day, where they’ve set standard in practice and shoot-around. They’ve really taken ownership and accountability for their season.”
The Terrapins (16-4, 7-2) now stand tied with Northwestern in second place, a game behind Iowa. Maryland has nine games left, beginning with a visit to Ohio State on Thursday and a Feb. 13 rematch against the Hawkeyes in College Park.
The players know exactly what it’s going to take to get the top seed in the Big Ten Tournament, and they don’t need Frese to put them in the proper frame of mind.
“When we make a mistake in practice, I don’t have to correct it because they’re already on it,” Frese said. “Same thing in a game. If someone has a lapse, they’ll call it out before a coach needs to. When you have that kind of accountability going on, now we don’t have to be the bad cop all the time. It just goes to show the standard they’re holding themselves to, and how much they want to play consistently.”
In the first game against Northwestern, Maryland was outscored 18-6 in the first quarter and never recovered. On Sunday, the Terrapins bolted to a 17-11 lead before sophomore forward Shakira Austin twisted her left ankle. Undaunted, Maryland ended up forcing 16 turnovers and limited the Wildcats to 10 third-quarter points.
“We want to bring energy from the start,” Terps guard Taylor Mikesell said. “We’ve had a lot of good starts since Iowa and it really begins on the defensive end.”
On the other side of the court, Maryland has provided star senior Kaila Charles plenty of support. Charles was picked as the preseason Big Ten player of year by the media and coaches, and she’s lived up to that billing by leading Maryland in scoring and rebounding. But she’s not alone. The Terps placed four players in double figures against Northwestern, and Charles wasn’t one of them.
“You’ve got to guard five people on the floor a lot of times. That’s one of the challenges,” Northwestern coach Joe McKeown said after his team’s first road loss.
Austin is Maryland’s second-leading scorer, but the Terrapins can score without her in the lineup. Guards Charles and Ashley Owusu can pop a jumper or drive to the basket, Stephanie Jones is solid inside, and Mikesell and Blair Watson have combined for 95 3-pointers.
“I love that kind of offense because you’re really hard to guard,” Frese said. “We’re starting to learn the strength in numbers we have against our competition.”
Still, after the feel-good win against Northwestern, Frese cautioned, “This game doesn’t mean a lot if you go to Ohio State and you’re not ready to play.”
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