With 7:39 remaining in the first half against Georgia on Saturday, Maryland women’s basketball forward Stephanie Jones scored an uncontested lay-in to cap a 20-7 run and extend the Terps’ advantage to 33-19, the largest for either team to that point.
On the next possession, forward Shakira Austin was called for an offensive foul. Then, guard Kaila Charles bricked a jumper. And in a fraction of the time it took the Terps to build a double-digit advantage, the wheels startlingly fell off.
After Jones’ layup, Maryland scored just four points — all on free throws — over the remainder of the first half as Georgia narrowed the lead to 37-30. The Terps were just as sluggish coming out of the locker room, tallying one point in the first 6:30 of the second half as the Bulldogs pulled ahead 40-38.
The Terps eventually ground out a victory behind stingy defense, but the 14-minute display of futility — which gave them their first second-half deficit of the year — showed that the team still has a long way to go toward resolving its offensive deficiencies.
“Sometimes your offense isn’t going to be there,” coach Brenda Frese said. “If we can keep finding ways to dominate within games, whether that be defense or rebounding when our shot’s not falling, our offense will come back around.”
Maryland’s shooting and ball handling have been a weak spot throughout nonconference play. The team hit 38.6 percent of its field goals in its season-opening win over Coppin State, then went 2-for-16 from three at George Washington five days later. And the Terps averaged 17 turnovers through their first five contests, including 24 giveaways against Dayton.
Through it all, Frese has remained patient with her young squad. She attributed the poor shooting against the Eagles to “the emotion and the energy of the first game,” and said the sloppiness against the Flyers wouldn’t become a trend as her players begin to jell.
Then again, Frese didn’t have much of a reason to be impatient. Each of the Terps’ first five wins was by double digits, as the squad used its massive size advantage to dominate the glass and convert ice-cold shooting into second-chance opportunities.
When Maryland faced then-No. 10 South Carolina earlier this month, the Gamecocks played small. Their tallest rotation piece, 6-foot-3 forward Alexis Jennings, was still nursing an injury. She was limited to 15 minutes against the Terps, who had a 53-29 rebounding advantage in their 85-61 victory.
But against the Bulldogs, the Terps no longer had that edge, and it showed. As Maryland continually clanged attempts off the rim, Georgia’s frontcourt picked up its rebounding assignments and boxed out.
The Bulldogs’ physical style of play helped limit the Terps to just five second-chance points and a meager 46-42 rebounding advantage.
“It was a really physical game. I think that led into it,” Frese said. “Just being able to handle it, because that physicality is what you’re going to see in conference play.”
Maryland has also relied on its defense to manufacture offense, converting steals and turnovers into transition points. The Terps had just two steals against Georgia — well below the 9.2 steals a game they averaged coming into Saturday — and they got only three points from those.
“Defense definitely transitions over to offense,” Austin said. “Staying focused on defense, being in the right spot and being there to help your teammates helps you get a stop. And then converting that into transition offense.”
Frese hopes the slog against Georgia — in which her team found a way to win despite taking 31 fewer shots than its opposition — provides the Terps with crucial experience in staying engaged despite being unable to hit from the field.
With each fruitless trip down the floor against the Bulldogs, Maryland’s intensity on the other end never wavered. The Terps held Georgia to 26.9 percent shooting from the field, including a 3-of-12 clip from beyond the arc, and that proved to be the difference.
Although the Terps have struggled to run offense so far this year, they still have plenty of time to sort out their issues before conference play. And with a matchup against Georgia Tech in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge approaching on Thursday, they’ll quickly get another chance to show improvement on that end.
“We had shots, we just weren’t finishing,” Jones said. “So we just needed to settle down. I think once we did that, we converted well.”