In a 77-60 defeat at the hands of then-No. 17 Michigan State on Jan. 17 — where a 25-9 second-half rebounding edge helped the Spartans pull away late — Maryland women’s basketball was finally bit by the in-game inconsistencies coach Brenda Frese had been harping on.
The No. 11 Terps struggled to play “40-minute games,” and after shrinking a 16-point first-quarter deficit to a manageable three points at the half, Michigan State outscored Maryland 40-26 after exiting the locker room.
But since that defeat, the Terps (18-2, 7-2 Big Ten) have notched three consecutive double-digit victories, and the loss to Michigan State may prove to be the wakeup call Maryland needed.
“We talked about that game being a defining moment of which direction we were going to go,” Frese said. “I thought it had to come from our players. I think our upperclassmen … have really taken a tremendous amount of accountability to make that happen.”
In the past three games, those upperclassmen have been exceptional.
Guard Kaila Charles scored 19 points in a 79-67 win over Penn State on Jan. 20, and tied 35-all entering the break, forward Brianna Fraser took over to seal the victory.
The team’s lone senior scored through contact to tie the game halfway into the third quarter, and after converting a lay-in two minutes into the fourth quarter — the last of her 11 second-half points — the Terps had flipped the game with a 12-3 run to secure a hard-fought win.
With Charles and guard Blair Watson in foul trouble for much of Maryland’s 70-57 win over Ohio State, forward Stephanie Jones scored a team-high 20 points. The following game — a 76-56 trouncing of Indiana on Sunday — Charles and Jones combined for 45 points.
“[We’ve been] holding each other accountable in practice,” forward Shakira Austin said. “And just communicating and making sure we bring the energy from practice into games.”
Early-game energy had been an issue before Sunday, but the Terps were well awake in the first half against the Hoosiers.
Maintaining a one-point edge over Indiana in the second quarter, Maryland turned to Jones to jumpstart the team on the road. She scored nine points in the next three minutes, and the Terps turned a narrow lead into a double-digit onslaught following a 14-0 run to end the half.
The 15-point halftime lead was Maryland’s largest of Big Ten play through nine games. Similar to the games following a 73-65 home defeat to No. 17 Rutgers, which prompted another three-game win streak, the team appears to be playing its best basketball of the season after a defeat.
“We bounced back after our loss against Rutgers, and I think we needed it again on the road,” said guard Taylor Mikesell, who won Big Ten Freshman of the Week after averaging 13.5 points and 6.0 assists last week. “So I think it was good for us.”
Despite the string of renewed form, the Terps are still a game behind Rutgers in the Big Ten standings. They are tied with Iowa at 7-2 for second place in the conference, and with nine games remaining in the conference slate — two of which are against teams ranked in Monday’s AP Top 25 — Maryland can’t afford to go through another rough patch.
And although Wisconsin (11-10, 2-7) is near the basement of the Big Ten standings, the Badgers are coming off a 12-point halftime comeback against Nebraska and could be another difficult conference test for the Terps on Thursday.
But if nothing else is certain following the deflating defeat to Michigan State, Maryland isn’t overlooking anyone at this point in the year.
“After that game, we’ve really focused,” Jones said. “This is a very important time in our season where we need to really lock in and not take any game for granted.”