No. 4 Maryland women’s basketball rolls past Wagner, 119-56, in season opener

Guard Diamond Miller drives past a defender in Maryland women's basketball's season-opening 119-56 win over Wagner on Nov. 5, 2019 at the Xfinity Center. (Cam Andrews/The Diamondback)

Forward Kaila Charles couldn’t help but smile after swishing her second 3-pointer of the fourth quarter, doubling her total from all of last season as the crowd roared with approval.

The preseason All-American’s infectious grin spread to her teammates when the buzzer sounded as the Maryland women’s basketball team scored its most points since 1992 in a 119-56 victory over Wagner at the Xfinity Center on Tuesday.

Ball distribution was key, as seven of the eight Terps players who logged minutes scored in double figures. And the Terps were sharp from the field, shooting at a 53.1 percent clip and hitting 12-of-25 3-pointers.

The team looked energized as Maryland hosted its annual Field Trip Day game, in which over 3,500 local elementary and middle school students from 28 schools were bussed to attend the contest. Their presence brought excitement to the arena, mirroring that of a primetime crowd — but with higher-pitched screams.

“We love the field trip game. It’s an important game for us to bring a lot of kids to campus and show them our university and our program,” coach Brenda Frese said. “I thought the energy was tremendous from them throughout the game.”

[Read more: “Fun way to play”: Maryland women’s basketball anticipates a quick transitional offense]

Charles, forward Shakira Austin and guard Ashley Owusu all tied as the team’s leading scorers with 18 points, and the Terps’ feisty defense led to 19 steals and helped put the game away early. Owusu also contributed a team-high nine of 30 total assists.

“Ashley is really fun to play with. She’s super unselfish and she sees the play before it happens,” guard Taylor Mikesell said. “She’s got a really bright future and has three more awesome years coming.”

The Terps let up a couple easy scores to start the game but quickly sharpened their defense, continually extending their lead as a result. They gave Wagner multiple defensive looks in the first quarter, switching between a regular and trapping press or dropping back into man-to-man.

And it paid dividends, leading to five steals and 11 points off turnovers in the first period. Similar to how it played in the preseason, Maryland used defensive aggressiveness to get quick buckets on the other end.

“[Defense] was a big emphasis, even at the end of last year,” Mikesell said. “I think that’s a big thing coach [Frese] was talking to me about, just improving my defense so that doesn’t keep me off the court.”

[Read more: Maryland basketball’s Kaila Charles earns AP Preseason All-American honors]

The second quarter was more of the same, as the Terps stifled the opposition and turned stops into scores. During one stretch, Maryland caused four straight turnovers and capitalized on each with points.

The Terps had the hot hand from three-point range in the first half, going 8-for-17 from behind the arc. Mikesell, Sara Vujacic — who finished with a career-high 15 points and six rebounds — and Owusu were particularly dominant, combining for 33 points and helping the team jump out to a 51-point halftime lead.

Even when they did miss, forwards Shakira Austin and Faith Masonius often grabbed the offensive rebound and converted the second-chance opportunities. Maryland outrebounded Wagner by 16 in the first half.

“I thought we set the tone early. We came out defensively with a ton of energy,” Frese said. “That first half is probably one of the better halves I’ve seen when you talk about defense, transition and sharing the basketball.”

While the crowd’s enthusiasm never wavered, the Terps looked flat in the third quarter. Maryland’s four turnovers and 20 points allowed in the frame were more than in the entire first half, winning the quarter by only a single point.

The Terps returned to form in the fourth, staying focused on both ends and taking care of the ball. While Austin shot 47.9 percent from the free-throw line in 2018, her improved stroke was on display Tuesday as she shot 8-for-11 from the stripe.

With Charles’ also showcasing an improved shot, Frese said both players worked “extremely” hard this offseason to develop their shooting touch and consistency and she was happy to see it pay-off in the opener.

Meanwhile, guard Channise Lewis did not dress Tuesday as she injured her knee in the final preseason game last week, a team spokesperson said. The severity of the injury will be evaluated later this week.

But Maryland was fine without the junior guard, blowing past Wagner with ease.

“For us, [today] was wanting to come out and set the tone of where we’re at on November 5,” Frese said. “I think as we put our head down and we continue to keep working like that, good things are in store for us.”

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