When the clock hit zero on the Bankers Life Fieldhouse scoreboard at the Big Ten tournament championship a season ago, the Maryland women’s basketball team watched despondently as the Ohio State bench rushed the floor.
For the first time since joining the Big Ten, the Terps were spectators to an opponent celebrating the title.
The 79-69 triumph was the cherry on top for the Buckeyes’ regular-season crown, and Maryland was humbled. Coach Brenda Frese’s team had won six straight Big Ten championships — three each in the regular season and tournament — during its first three seasons in the conference.
Now, a year later, the No. 8 Terps have regained their place atop the Big Ten, and the squad doesn’t plan on leaving Indianapolis empty-handed again.
Maryland’s (26-3, 15-3 Big Ten) quest to repossess the Big Ten tournament championship begins with Michigan State (20-10, 9-9) on Friday. The Spartans thrashed the Terps 77-60 in the teams’ only meeting this season.
“We wanna get back to the championship game, and we wanna actually win it,” guard Kaila Charles said. “A lot of the veterans are just having that in their back of their minds, how we felt last year when we lost. We don’t wanna feel like that again.”
In contrast to this season — when the Terps captured an outright conference title and the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament — Maryland was the underdog entering the 2018 edition.
After the depleted Terps won their first two matchups in Indianapolis, the Buckeyes proved to be too much, pulling away to secure a 10-point triumph and its fifth tournament conquest in program history.
Still, Maryland could taste the title.
“We were so close to achieving that goal, just knowing that feeling,” forward Stephanie Jones said. “Just not wanting to feel that again and doing the best that we can to avoid that.”
Despite the players’ admitted motivation to avoid a repeat of that letdown, Frese doesn’t need any more bulletin-board material. Frese has established a culture of winning, missing just one NCAA tournament in her 17 years at Maryland.
“We always set the standard high, and we wanna play in that championship game to have a chance to win it,” Frese said. “That motivation really hasn’t changed because that’s where we wanna be every time we step out.”
But the players have acknowledged their desire to reclaim the Big Ten tourney trophy after it narrowly evaded them a year ago. And with the regular-season title already in hand, Maryland could reassert itself as the top dogs in the conference with a perfect weekend.
If the Terps can win three games in three days to capture the crown, their past failure against Ohio State will be long forgotten.
“Getting the regular season was another step to that, another step closer,” guard Taylor Mikesell said. “We were talking about that just before practice, trying to build on this and get that championship.”