MINNEAPOLIS (AP)Maryland is surging into March again, this time with a twist.
The Terrapins have turned themselves into quite the force on defense.
Taylor Mikesell scored 22 points on 6-for-8 shooting from 3-point range to lead seventh-ranked Maryland’s romp past Minnesota 99-44 on Sunday afternoon. The Terrapins forged a tie for the conference title and finished the regular season on a 14-game winning streak with their largest margin of victory in six years of Big Ten play.
Ashley Owusu had 17 points, Kaila Charles added 15 points and Stephanie Jones and Shakira Austin each pitched in 13 points for the Terrapins (25-4, 16-2), who shared first place with Northwestern for their fifth regular-season Big Ten championship. The Terps, who won the tiebreaker with the Wildcats and will have the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament next weekend, had 24 steals and forced 35 turnovers, both season highs.
“We recruit very talented players who can put the ball in the basket,” said coach Brenda Frese, who overhauled her system over the summer. “This is just a special team defensively. It’s been fun to be able to see the buy-in.”
Charles was one of the seniors who had to “unlearn everything from the last three years” and dedicate themselves to the less glamorous end of the court.
“I’m glad we changed it,” Charles said.
Sara Scalia scored 10 points for the Gophers (15-14, 5-13), who lost their sixth straight game and suffered their most lopsided loss in nearly 34 years. Taiye Bello, one of four seniors playing in their final home game, had seven points and 10 rebounds for Minnesota.
Northwestern’s first conference title share in three decades – since finishing as co-champs with Iowa in 1989-90 – became the story of the winter in Big Ten women’s basketball. Maryland’s dominance down the stretch wasn’t much of a plot twist, but this was one of the best productions in Frese’s 18 seasons.
The Terrapins last lost on Jan. 9 at third-place Iowa. Since then, the only opponents to come closer than 18 points were Northwestern (70-61) and Indiana (76-62 and 79-69). The average margin of victory in Maryland’s last six games was 37.8 points.
The Terrapins, who are the fifth-highest scoring team in the country, had a 54-16 advantage in points in the paint, drawing three-point plays at will.
Maryland’s defense might be even more dangerous now. The Terrapins have posted 34 steals and forced 59 turnovers over their last two games, including an 88-45 win over Purdue earlier in the week. Gophers freshman point guard Jasmine Powell, who had four 20-plus-point games in February, finished with six points on 2-for-10 shooting and had 10 turnovers. After making their first three shots, the Gophers went 12 for 51 from the floor over the rest of the game. They scored just six points in the second quarter and five points in the fourth quarter.
“They keep you on their heels,” Gophers coach Lindsay Whalen said.
Maryland: Frese, who spent one season at Minnesota in 2001-02 when Whalen was a sophomore on the team, steered the Terrapins to the 2006 national title and took them back to the Final Four in 2014 and 2015. This team is well-stocked and well-poised for another deep run.
Minnesota: This was the program’s worst loss since a 101-46 defeat by Auburn on Nov. 29, 1986. The bright spot came during a postgame ceremony for the outgoing seniors, which included an
from boyfriend Elijah Wright. (She said yes.) Whalen thanked them for lightening the mood on a rough afternoon.
“It was a huge surprise to me,” Brunson said. “My mind is still wrapped around basketball right now so I wasn’t even in that mindset.”
Maryland: Gets a double bye into the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament. The Terrapins play on Friday afternoon in Indianapolis against the No. 8 seed Michigan State-No. 9 seed Purdue winner.
Minnesota: Has the No. 11 seed for the Big Ten tournament, meaning a first-round matchup against last-place Penn State on Wednesday afternoon. With a win, the Gophers would play No. 6 seed Ohio State on Thursday night.
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