In a game marred by missed layups and off-target jumpers, guard Ashley Owusu proved to be Maryland women’s basketball’s lone bright spot in an otherwise poor offensive display against South Carolina on Sunday.
While the Terps floundered their way to a 31.4 shooting percentage, the freshman was the lone player to produce any semblance of offensive consistency against a staunch Gamecocks defense. Owusu tallied team highs with 17 points and seven rebounds in 37 minutes, balancing scoring duties with her role as the team’s primary ball-handler. She doled out a third of her team’s assists.
After then-No. 8 South Carolina upset then-No. 4 Maryland, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley admitted she wanted her players to put pressure on the young point guard early. They may have tried, but Owusu’s ability to produce despite that impressed Staley and provides some solace for the Terps after the early season loss.
“I thought Owusu had a really good game,” Staley said. “She controlled the tempo for them.”
[Read more: South Carolina prevails over Maryland women’s basketball in top-10 battle, 63-54]
Owusu often faced guard Tyasha Harris, a Nancy Lieberman Award finalist last season and two-time All-SEC second team selection. The imposing matchup only made Owusu’s strong play all the more impressive. She didn’t seem intimidated lining up against the senior and remained aggressive throughout the contest, even though Maryland’s deficit continued to grow in the fourth quarter.
Owusu is a sure-handed dribbler, often displaying a quick in-and-out move that’s becoming her signature, and she can score from inside and out. If teams shift their defensive focus to her, she’s adept at finding her teammates for open shots with crisp passes.
With guard Channise Lewis currently sidelined with a torn meniscus, coach Brenda Frese placed her trust in her highest-ranked recruit to pick up the slack. Based on her performances through her first two games, Frese is seeing Owusu’s inclusion pay dividends.
“She’s super talented,” Frese said. “I thought [South Carolina] did a great job defending her, but you didn’t even get to see the full package today of what she’s capable of.”
[Read more: Maryland women’s basketball drops four spots to No. 8 in AP poll after South Carolina loss]
The Woodbridge, Virginia, native built off her impressive season-opening performance against Wagner, in which she scored 18 points and added nine assists and four steals. But just 11 months ago, when her senior season was cut short due to a blood clot in her left leg, this success seemed so distant.
As a junior in high school, Owusu was the top-ranked point guard in her class and named a McDonald’s All-American and the Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year, but her senior season was jeopardized when she was hit by a car in a fast-food restaurant parking lot in December 2018.
She didn’t suffer any broken bones or other injuries, but the resulting blood clot kept her off the court for a while. And shortly after returning, Owusu returned to the sideline once more, needing surgery on a broken foot that ended her campaign.
While she had time to regain form this summer, she hasn’t shown any rust in her first meaningful action since then. Instead, she looks as though she never missed a beat.
“It’s great being a freshman, being out there with all my teammates and coaches,” Owusu said. “It’s just a great atmosphere being here at Maryland.”
Although assertive on the court, Owusu has a quiet demeanor off it. She’s humble and concise with her responses to the media, consistently complimenting her teammates’ efforts instead of dwelling on her own.
Frese noted Owusu as the standout freshman among the Terps’ No. 3-ranked recruiting class during the team’s media day. To the coach, Owusu has the “it” factor, and the poise and play of an upperclassman.
Owusu has lived up to the billing so far. But as a freshman who’s also the team’s main offensive initiator, she’ll face further tests against high-level competition as the season progresses.
“It’s exciting to think of her coming in there at the point and the plays that she can make off the bounce and for [her teammates],” Frese said. “For her it’s just continuing to keep working.”