Ashley Owusu turned back and forth trying to track Northwestern’s Melannie Daney as she sprinted down the court late in the first half. Daney was at full speed after intercepting a Chloe Bibby pass and had just Owusu to beat.
The junior Maryland women’s basketball guard timed her move perfectly. Owusu hesitated before speeding up and diving forward, darting her hand out to knock the ball out as she slid into the Terps’ bench to a standing ovation from the crowd and her teammates.
Owusu’s steal capped off a stifling defensive half for the Terps, who limited Northwestern to just 32.3% in the first two quarters of play. Their suffocating defense and coach Brenda Frese’s return to the bench broke a two-game losing streak with a 87-59 victory over the Wildcats on Sunday afternoon.
“Wanted to get back on defense and get the ball back,” Owusu said. “I think I put a lot of emphasis on myself just being able to make hustle plays because I don’t think this year I’ve been making hustle plays for our team.”
Maryland, which gave up a season-high 95 points to Ohio State in its last game, clamped down against Northwestern. Its zone baited the Wildcats into 20 three-point attempts — they came into the matchup shooting threes at a 30.7 percent clip and made just five shots from behind the arc on Sunday.
“Our [matchup zone] gave them problems,” Frese said. “We haven’t played that many minutes of it like we did today. So, they did a really good job rotating in it.”
On the offensive end, Maryland had no such issues, as it went 18-of-31 on long-range shots. Katie Benzan repeatedly found open space and went 5-of-7 from behind the arc, scoring 17 points in the game.
Angel Reese searched for a passing option out of the post early in the second quarter and attempted a feed to a cutting Bibby. Bibby had drawn two defenders on the play and the pass deflected out of bounds. After the play, Benzan, who was open in the corner, came over to Reese and the pair talked.
Reese found herself in a similar position a couple of minutes later, but skipped a pass across the paint to the opposite corner where Benzan waited before knocking down an open three. Late in the third, Reese found Benzan on the outside again with a one-handed sling past a pair of defenders. She finished with nine points, eight rebounds and two assists.
“Angel is such a threat in the paint so they have to throw two, three defenders out at her and Angel is great reading the defense, seeing the double team and just finding an open player,” Benzan said.
Shyanne Sellers added four more threes and scored 14 points, the most she’s had in a game since Jan. 6.
Even Owusu, who’s much more comfortable in the mid-range and had only taken 16 three-pointers all season coming into today, took and made three shots from deep. She finished with 15 points, 6 assists and just 2 turnovers.
“That’s the ball security we have to be able to have, the ownership,” Frese said. “But I thought as a team we were really unselfish, making easy plays for one another.”
Improving its defense, particularly against three-point shooters, and starting faster has been a constant refrain for Maryland’s team leaders as the team’s struggled at various points throughout this season. Today, they forced Northwestern to shoot just 20 percent from behind the arc and raced out to an 18-14 first-quarter lead and 39-23 halftime advantage.
But now with more consistency in their lineups, the Terps hope to find that consistency in their game, stringing together performances like this one as the conference schedule continues.
“It was a point of emphasis for us coming off those past two games we want to punch first in every game and in every quarter,” Benzan said. “In those two games. we didn’t do that. So in this one, we really concentrated on being the first one to the ground, being the first one to score just all the firsts.”