It was late in Maryland women’s basketball’s contest against Northwestern, and the Terps were in danger of losing.
The Wildcats had stifled the nation’s top offense, and, despite the Terps’ best efforts, had continued to stick around. Northwestern was down just seven, but it was at that point that its comeback would wither. For the last game’s last 3:30, coach Brenda Frese’s squad gave up just one field goal and three points to close out an already impressive defensive performance.
“I thought we just did a tremendous job understanding the different times when we had to have a lockdown and get a big stop,” Frese said.
In that closing stretch, the Wildcats went 1-of-7 from the field due in no small part to a smart schematic adjustment from Frese.
The Terps had been mixing their defensive coverages between man and zone in the first half. But as the second half progressed, Maryland’s defensive coverage stayed in zone just a bit too long, allowing Northwestern to get comfortable and find its offensive rhythm. To disrupt that, Frese went back to man.
“We definitely just brought our energy back collectively with our man defense,” Frese said. “I thought we were a lot more focused and locked in and better communication across the board within the team.”
That communication was evident in the late game stretch. With just over two-and-a-half minutes remaining, the Wildcats attempted to run off-ball action in an effort to create space for an open three-point shooter or a cutter right underneath the basket.
The three defenders involved in the action — Chloe Bibby, Katie Benzan and Mimi Collins — all communicated well, preventing a breakdown and forcing Northwestern guard Jordan Hamilton into an errant midrange jumper.
At the 1:22 mark, the Wildcats ran a pick and roll, one that Diamond Miller and Collins switched seamlessly. Collins, knowing she was at a bit of a speed mismatch on the perimeter against Northwestern’s Veronica Burton, stretched her arms out to put off the guard.
Without a clear advantage or driving lane, Burton fed a handoff pass to Sydney Wood, who was marshaled by Bibby. Wood immediately dashed toward the hoop, but Bibby was kept tight to her and contested the shot to force a missed layup.
The Terps keyed on Burton throughout the game. Although she led the Wildcats in scoring with 15 points, she went an abysmal 4-of-16 from the field. It was emblematic of her team’s woeful struggles on the offensive end — struggles that were particularly evident when Maryland locked in during the game’s final moments.
“We were just focusing and digging and playing Maryland defense to the best of our abilities,” Miller said.