Diamond Miller collected a defensive rebound and sprinted down the floor in transition. As she pulled up to the free throw line, the Maryland women’s basketball guard paused to survey the Michigan defense.
But the Wolverines forgot about Katie Benzan. She was wide open, Miller zipping a pass to the senior for an easy three to take a lead on the Terps’ first possession.
And that was a harbinger of what was to come.
No. 8 Maryland wouldn’t relinquish its advantage from that point forward, continuing its dominance by blowing out No. 12 Michigan, 88-63, in a matchup of two Big Ten juggernauts. The victory guaranteed the Terps at least a share of the regular season conference title and extended their win streak to nine.
“We talked about it being our toughest game so far,” coach Brenda Frese said. “But I thought our mentality from the tip, we were ready to go.”
Maryland came out with a vengeance to start the game, racing out to a 14-point lead after just one quarter. It did so with swarming defense, forcing nine first quarter turnovers and scoring 14 points off those Wolverine miscues.
Early in the first, Ashley Owusu played smothering defense against Hailey Brown in the backcourt. Owusu reached in and poked the ball away from Brown for a steal and uncontested layup.
The Terps finished the game with 21 forced turnovers, scoring 29 points off those miscues, 20 of which came in the first half.
“That allows us to be able to get out in transition,” Frese said. “Again, just just critical to be able to have our defense lead to offense.”
Off another steal late in the first half, Owusu put on a show in transition. She went on one two for a fastbreak, and after euro stepping through the paint to ditch the first defender, she reversed, flicking up a deft layup to evade the pressure from the second. She finished with 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting, adding five rebounds and three assists.
While Owusu downplayed the move after the game, her coach was much more effusive.
“I thought it was a SportsCenter Top 10,” Frese said.
Owusu’s fellow sophomore, Miller, was similarly effective, scoring 17 points and grabbing nine rebounds. Early in the fourth quarter, she raced through the Michigan defense before throwing a high-arcing layup that kissed off the glass and in.
“It’s why we work the way we do,” Miller said. “This feeling never gets old, and I just want to continue to have this feeling.”
Mimi Collins also had an incredibly efficient offensive performance, scoring 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting, including 2-of-2 on threes to improve her standing as a dangerous shooter.
Collins’ best impact however came on the defensive end, primarily matched up with Michigan star center Naz Hillmon. Maryland fronted Hillmon all night, preventing the forward from dominating like she has so often this year.
While she finished the game with 19 points, Hillmon had to labor for every single point and was well under her season average of 25.8 points.
“She didn’t get anything easy,” Frese said. “She had to play all of her 36 minutes tonight to be able to earn and get her 19 points.”
The Wolverines struggled to score, shooting just 45.1 percent from the field, part of yet another strong defensive performance from the Terps. It’s a part of the game that coach Brenda Frese’s squad has greatly improved in recent weeks, propelling its win streak.
“We’re playing both ends of the floor,” Frese said. “The fact that we’re finding so many different ways to be able to win a game, then especially if we’re doing it on the road, I think is really exciting for what lies ahead.”
But this win wasn’t like the others. Although all were blowouts, this game was against a top-15 opponent, a challenger to the throne.
This victory was a statement from Maryland in perhaps its toughest matchup ahead of next week’s Big Ten tournament, a statement that emphasized that even with an almost entirely new team, the conference still runs through College Park.
“That’s what separates this team from all the rest right now,” Frese said. “They just want to win, they’re hungry to be great.”