When Maryland women’s basketball is at its best, Stephanie Jones plays “mean”

Forward Stephanie Jones fends off a defender during Maryland women's basketball's 88-45 victory against Purdue on Feb. 25. (Gabby Baniqued/The Diamondback)

Dubbed “Ms. Consistency” by coach Brenda Frese, forward Stephanie Jones has taken her production to another level for Maryland women’s basketball in recent weeks.

The senior returned to the starting lineup just before conference play began and helped jump-start the Terps’ 13-game winning streak. But her play of late adds another dimension to an already-talented Maryland squad that has five players averaging double-digit points.

Jones is averaging 16 points and 8.2 rebounds per game on 75 percent shooting in her past five games — well above her season averages. And her improved performance was recognized last week when she earned her first career Big Ten Player of the Week award on Feb. 17.

“She’s so good at going to the open gaps and she just knows how to position her body,” Purdue coach Sharon Versyp said after Jones notched 18 points and nine boards against the Boilermakers on Feb. 25. “She shoots the ball well and has alternative moves. I’ve been watching her for a long time and she’s just a tough player to guard. They all are, but she in particular because she has a 15-foot range and then obviously is so smart.”

[Read more: Seniors shine on Senior Night as Maryland women’s basketball tops Purdue, 88-45]

Jones’ play earlier in the season closely resembled how she carries herself off the court — quiet and understated. She stuck to her role and did the subtle things Maryland needed to win, preferring functionality over flashiness.

Recently, though, Jones appears more fiery and assertive on the court. She’s not the Terps’ first option on offense, but routinely creates easy scoring opportunities for herself around the basket with an array of fundamentally sound post moves and strong finishes with both hands.

Jones’ actions are more deliberate and effective. And as the senior has become more central to Frese’s offense, her teammates have responded, often feeding her when buckets prove hard to come by.

With 17 first-half points at Penn State, Jones exemplified her newfound ability to take over — an ability that is taking her game to new heights.

“We always call it ‘Mean Steph,’” Frese said. “She’s so mild-mannered and happy and positive, but when you get that aggression from her, the physicality, and she’s playing with a strong purpose. She wants to take this thing as far as she can. It makes us a better team when she puts together [stretches] like how she’s playing.”

When Jones arrived in College Park, her older sister, Brionna, had already paved a path as one of the program’s all-time great players.

Brionna scored 1,928 points during her four-year career, the sixth-highest total in Maryland history. And although Stephanie Jones hasn’t enjoyed quite as prolific a career, she is one of Maryland’s most efficient scorers ever.

Jones currently sits third on the program’s all-time field goal percentage list with a 59.5 percent average, one spot behind Brionna, and she passed the 1,000 career point mark earlier this season.

“I don’t think there was any pressure, at least I didn’t feel any. I knew that, especially talking to Bri, I was going to have my own journey here,” Jones said. “I think that over the course of four years with these seniors here that we’ve definitely left our mark.”

[Read more: No. 7 Maryland women’s basketball stays red-hot with 85-56 win over Wisconsin]

If Jones can maintain her recent production into the postseason, Maryland is all the more dangerous with a true second scoring option next to forward Kaila Charles.

Forward Shakira Austin and guards Ashley Owusu and Taylor Mikesell have carried some of the scoring load at different points in the season, but Jones’ consistency sets her apart.

When Jones is at her best, defenses key in on her, gifting shot opportunities to Maryland’s talented backcourt. Charles said she sees lanes open up for her when Jones draws such attention.

In a season marked by defensive identity and a balanced offensive attack, Jones’ newfound offensive prowess broadens the ways in which the Terps can win.

“[Opponents] can’t be worried about me because we have other teammates that can score. We need everybody to contribute. We need everybody to be hot. We need Steph to get us right and have that spark when she starts in,” Charles said. “So we’re going to need everybody because they can’t just stop a team when they have nine players that can score.”

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