All year, Ashley Owusu has been near-perfect on the hardwood. With the ball in her hand, she rarely makes the wrong decision, whether it’s to use her imposing frame to bulldoze her way to the rim or to use her advanced basketball mind to diagnose the defense and pick it apart with an expertly timed and perfectly placed pass.
It’s what made her one of the Big Ten’s best guards and put her in the driver’s seat of the nation’s best offense.
But in Maryland women’s basketball’s season-ending 64-61 loss to Texas on Sunday night, Owusu faltered down the stretch. Despite playing the entire fourth quarter, the sophomore guard failed to score a single point, notching just one rebound and one assist.
“I thought ultimately [Texas] made one or two more plays in the fourth quarter that were the difference,” coach Brenda Frese said.
However, with just under seven minutes left in a tie game, Owusu looked like she had sparked a burst of points to propel the Terps to victory.
She and Chloe Bibby ran the fastbreak, Bibby dishing the ball over to Owusu as Texas’ Kyra Lambert stepped in front of the latter to try and draw a charge. At the last second, Owusu whipped the ball back for an easy Bibby layup, bowling over Lambert in the process.
As Bibby’s layup dropped through the basket, the referee’s whistle sounded as he brought his fists down to his hips. It was a blocking foul on Lambert.
The bucket counted, and the Terps got another possession. On the subsequent play, Mimi Collins grabbed an offensive rebound and score off a Diamond Miller miss.
It was a four-point possession that turned a tie game into a two-score Terps’ lead with just six minutes remaining. It seemed like Maryland finally had the wiggle room it needed to overcome the Longhorns’ scare and pull out a victory.
But that wouldn’t happen. Frese’s squad toiled in the game’s final minutes. And Owusu played a part in the struggles, showing cracks against a fervent Texas defense.
“We kind of just went away from our play there … kudos to them, they played a great defensive game,” Bibby said.
On the Terps’ next offensive try, Owusu ran the shot clock down before driving in for a layup that was swatted away by Charli Collier.
Just over a minute later with the Terps’ lead cut to just two, Owusu drove to her left but couldn’t turn the corner past Lambert to get to the bucket. Instead, she lobbed an entry pass in to Faith Masonius, attempting to lead her right to the basket where she’d have an opportunity for a layup or a kick out to Bibby in the corner.
Except Owusu didn’t get the pass high enough. Masonius’ defender, Celeste Taylor, tipped the ball away to deny Maryland another scoring chance.
As the clock wound down and the game tightened, Owusu’s woes continued. She brought the ball back up and tried to send a pass to Collins. But Collins wasn’t ready for the feed, and the ball was deflected away.
Owusu ran up to try and grab the ball, but in doing so she left nobody back on defense. Lambert eventually corralled the loose ball before strolling into the lane for the go-ahead layup with 44 seconds remaining.
“I think they rushed us quite a bit,” Frese said. “Sometimes we had great open looks that we typically make … I think their pressure defensively sped us up for most of the night.”
It’d be unfair to pin the entire loss on Owusu. In the final frame, she made multiple passes to open shooters for three-pointers that could’ve changed the complexion of the game, including one at the end of the game to Benzan that could’ve tied it.
Any of those shots goes in and her performance is merely a footnote, yet another challenge that the Terps passed with flying colors. But heavy is the head that wears the title of star. And few in the country are as big a star as Owusu, a player who wasn’t able to find her stride in San Antonio when it mattered the most.
“This is the experience you’re trying to gain. For a lot of our players, this was the first time on this kind of stage, not having the NCAA tournament last year,” Frese said. “Unfortunately hurts tonight, but all things that we can gain as we move forward.”