COLLEGE PARK – In a competitive Big Ten faceoff, the No. 20 University of Maryland women’s basketball team used a balanced offensive effort and an intensified second-half defense to secure a bounce-back 70-61 win over No. 22 Northwestern at Xfinity Center on Jan. 26.
Forward Stephanie Jones recorded 14 points and game-high 11 rebounds while Ashley Owusu posted an explosive second half to finish with 13 points, seven rebounds and five assists to lead the Terrapins to their sixth straight win.
With the win, the Terps (16-4, 5-2 Big Ten) redeemed themselves from an 81-58 loss to the Wildcats back on Dec. 31 in Evanston, Illinois.
To start the afternoon, Taylor Mikesell found Blair Watson for a corner 3-pointer, then Jones connected on two mid-range jump shots to give the Terps an early lead. Maryland went on to build a 13-7 lead before a media timeout with 4:34 remaining in the first quarter. Entering the second, they led 17-11 after holding the Wildcats to 4 of 12 shooting.
Northwestern began the second quarter on a 7-0 run to take its first lead of the afternoon, 18-17. The Wildcats ran their offense through Lindsey Pulliam, who scored 10 in the first half, and Veronica Burton.
The Wildcats defense prevailed throughout the second as Maryland committed five turnovers and made only 4 of 14 shots. Toward the end of the first half, Pulliam hit three free throws, and Sydney Wood drove through the defense for a lay-in to give Northwestern a 30-27 halftime lead.
The Terrapins’ halftime adjustment from an alternating man-to-man defense to a zone defense to an all-zone defense was critical for their success against the Wildcats, Maryland Head Coach Brenda Frese said. She also credited Owusu’s aggression and ability to work out of the high post.
“I thought halftime came at about the right time for us to kinda be able to go in there and regroup, and I’m really proud of the punch we came back within the third quarter and the second half,” Frese said. “I think it speaks volumes to this team, just their fight and commitment to stay the course. A month ago, we didn’t quite adjust this game that well, so I think you’ve seen the strides that we’ve been able to make coming out of that.”
Maryland outscored Northwestern, 21-10, in the third quarter, tallying a 12-0 scoring run along the way with Owusu leading the offensive charge. They also outrebounded Northwestern, 45-29, despite losing one of its leading rebounders in Shakira Austin, who was sidelined after going down with an ankle injury in the first quarter. The sophomore will be evaluated over the next few days, Frese said.
The Terps’ last loss was to Iowa, 66-61, on Jan. 9. Since dropping that conference game to Iowa, Maryland has grown with each game and has transformed into a player-led team, Frese said.
“I thought the punch off the bench was huge. The play that Ashley gave us today, we have to continue to have that,” Frese said. “We’re small in number, so everyone’s gotta be continued to play that way.”
Maryland also got double-digit performances from Mikesell, who finished with 14 points, and Blair Watson, who had 13 points along with seven rebounds. Mikesell, a 5-foot-11 sophomore, concurred with Frese’s characterization of the Terrapins.
“It’s been player-driven,” Mikesell said. “We want to bring energy from the start. We’ve had a lot of good starts since Iowa, and it’s sparked from the defensive end, and it (has) led to our offensive game.”
Pulliam opened the fourth quarter with a four-point play, and Abbie Wolf put in a layup to close the Wildcats’ deficit to 48-46. Maryland responded with a 6-0 run of its own to stretch its lead back out to eight and keep the Wildcats at bay for the rest of the game.
Owusu, Watson and Mikesell came up big late to seal the win for the Terps, who hand Northwestern (17-3, 7-2) its first away loss this season.
“We fought hard,” Northwestern Head Coach Joe McKeown said. “We turned it over, which we don’t do very often, so I’m disappointed in that.”
McKeown said his team had a strong second quarter and controlled the pace of the game up to that point. However, Maryland’s ability to crash the offensive glass, make tough shots and force some uncharacteristic turnovers snapped the Wildcats’ five-game winning streak.
“I thought their defense pushed us out a little bit and made us play a little further from the basket,” McKeown said. “We missed shots that we make. I think they got us playing a little faster than what we wanted to.”
Pulliam led all scorers with 20 points, and Burton chipped in with 14 for the Wildcats.
“They (Maryland) amped up their pressure, but it was really on us. We weren’t poised, we turned the ball over, they outworked us on the offensive glass, so it’s really what we did,” Pulliam said. “We’re gonna play Maryland again later on when we get to the Big Ten tournament, so it’s just moving on to the next one, learning from this and just continuing to do what we want to do.”
Aside from the loss, the Silver Spring native and former Our Lady of Good Counsel standout were happy to return home and play in front of loved ones and supporters.
“It’s always great being home and being able to play in front of my family and everything, so it was awesome,” Pulliam said. “Awesome atmosphere, and we had a lot of purple here, so it was cool.”