The question for No. 10 Maryland women’s basketball heading into the fourth quarter Thursday night was whether it could hold on to the lead absent its top player. With 17 seconds left in the third, Diamond Miller picked up her fourth foul diving for a loose ball.
But even without Miller on the court, the Terps (17-4, 8-2 Big Ten) held No. 13 Michigan (16-5, 6-4 Big Ten) in check at Xfinity Center en route to a 72-64 win for their eighth conference victory of the season.
The game plan for Maryland was simple: use a high-tempo press to throw Michigan off its offensive rhythm. And it worked. Michigan committed 24 turnovers — its third-highest rate of the season. Maryland used those giveaways to outscore the visitors 25-5 in points off turnovers.
“Their pressure and their length was really disruptive,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico. “Their press just I think really wore us down.”
But not only did Maryland’s defense force a plethora of turnovers, but it also stifled a normally potent Michigan offense. It wasn’t until 7:52 of the third when a Michigan player reached double-digit scoring — Leigha Brown, who finished with 16 points, made a free throw to get there.
[Improved defensive tenacity helped Maryland women’s basketball exact revenge on Nebraska]
Almost a year ago, the Wolverines marched into College Park and earned a 20-point victory against the Terps. In that meeting, Maddie Nolan made seven threes for 21 points. But on Thursday, Nolan went 3-for-10 from three, finished with nine points and fouled out in the fourth quarter.
“It was definitely important to get this one back,” Miller said. “We all know what happened last year. We got embarrassed on our home court, and we just felt like we needed this one back for coach and her family.”
Maryland coach Brenda Frese’s father, Bill, passed away before the team’s game against Michigan last year.
After trailing inside the opening minutes, Maryland’s offense — mainly through Diamond Miller — started to come alive. Despite finding herself in foul trouble and ultimately fouling out, Miller finished with a game-high 23 points and a season-high five steals.
“I loved everything about Diamond’s game tonight,” Frese said. “I thought she played really, really hard tonight, and that’s who she is, what she’s capable of doing every single night.”
Miller picked up her fourth foul diving for a loose ball with 17.9 seconds left in the third and didn’t check back into the game until 6:29 of the fourth. In her stead, Frese went with a lineup of Abby Meyers, Brinae Alexander, Faith Masonius, Lavender Briggs and Shyanne Sellers.
“We got to keep Diamond in the game,” Meyers said. “She’s a scorer. She gets so many great opportunities on the offensive end, whether that’s her attacking and taking the whole team’s attention. I think when Diamond went out it was really, ‘let’s defend as best we can.’”
[No. 11 Maryland women’s basketball blows by Nebraska, 69-54]
Heading into the fourth without Miller, the Terps held a 12-point lead. And before Miller checked back in, Briggs played a key role. The Florida transfer had 14 points, three rebounds and knocked down both of her 3-point looks.
“I thought our X-factor was Lav with just big moments,” Frese said. “Big shots, having the confidence to step up.”
The final push never came for the Wolverines, who failed to cut the lead to more than six in the fourth. With Nolan and Elise Stuck both on the bench with five fouls, Michigan resorted to fouling in the late stages Thursday.
Michigan led for just three and a half minutes, and a 13-2 Maryland run in the first put the Wolverines in a hole they couldn’t recover from.
After struggling offensively in the last two games — 11 points combined — Meyers finished with a 12-point, 11-rebound double-double. Sellers also had 13 points and five rebounds,
“For me, it’s always mentality,” Meyers said. “Keep things simple, attack the boards, rebound, pass. I guess I had a nose for the ball today, hopefully, continue to have a nose for the ball.”
Laila Phelia had 15 points and seven rebounds for the Wolverines, while Emily Kiser 11 and nine.