In the early stages of the season, guard Ashley Owusu hardly played at the level her class standing might suggest.
The freshman — despite new surroundings and responsibilities — showed unprecedented poise, tallying 18 points and nine assists in her debut, and following that with 17 points in a loss to then-No. 8 South Carolina. The lone bright spot against the Gamecocks, Owusu continued to shine, hitting the game-winner in a 21-point comeback at James Madison to help her team avoid a major upset.
And after earning consecutive Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors, Owusu seemed poised to break out in conference play. As the season has progressed, though, she’s struggled to maintain consistency, disappearing in one game while powering her team the next.
After shooting just once against Ohio State on Jan. 30 and contributing a season-low two points, Owusu rebounded with a career-high 22 points on Monday against Michigan State. Even with the inconsistency, the Terps know just how high Owusu’s ceiling is — and her effort against the Spartans showed as such.
“You can just see what makes her so incredibly gifted is her ability to push in transition, to pass, to score, the pull-up,” coach Brenda Frese said. “She’s a really dynamic guard that kind of separates us when she’s playing at that highest level.”
After a string of frustrating performances from Owusu early in Big Ten play, Frese removed her from the starting lineup as the Terps took on Iowa on Jan. 9, ending the guard’s 14-game start streak. The 18th-year head coach cited a need for veteran leadership and consistency.
And since then, Owusu’s season has taken a handful of twists and turns. In some games, she looks like the team’s best ball-handler and passer. In others, she disappears into the background.
Against the Buckeyes, Owusu played a season-low 12 minutes and missed her only shot attempt in a forgettable showing.
Against the Spartans, though, Owusu electrified the Xfinity Center crowd with a career-high 22 points, eight assists and six boards. She was the spark the team needed after a lethargic start.
“We talked about [her energy] after that last game. She picked up two really quick fouls at Ohio State and was kind of a step slow defensively, which impacted her in that first half,” Frese said. “She gets [her energy] from the defensive end and transitions so aggressively for us on the offensive end.”
Fellow freshman guard Diamond Miller and forward Faith Masonius have also shared in Owusu’s inconsistency. But as Owusu was the highest-ranked recruit of the three — and is the only true point guard remaining on a Maryland roster decimated by backcourt injuries — her erratic play has a greater impact on the team.
It was unrealistic to expect her success at the start of the year to remain the norm, but Owusu continues to prove that she doesn’t let one bad play or outing affect the next one. Her older teammates echo how staying confident is the key to thriving in a freshman season that will inevitably have bumps along the way.
And while Owusu rarely outwardly expresses her emotions, it’s clear she lifts her teammates’ energy and tempo when she’s at her best.
“She’s just keeping her confidence up. She doesn’t let the difference between her average in the games affect her energy [that she’s] bringing in the games,” forward Shakira Austin said. “That’s the best thing you can do when you’re going through those up-and-down games.”