Iowa coach Lisa Bluder has a lot in common with her Ohio State counterpart, Kevin McGuff. Both have teams that have been ranked in the top 10 this season. Both have helped transform the Big Ten into one of the toughest conferences in the nation. Both have won more than 67 percent of their career games as head coaches.
And now, both have suffered blowout losses to Maryland women’s basketball in College Park.
The Terps blasted the Hawkeyes 96-68 Tuesday, and thrashed the Buckeyes by 36 in early February. The Ohio State win was No. 7 Maryland’s largest win ever over a top 10 opponent. Against the Terps, Iowa gave up its most points and scored its fewest points this season.
“This team has won eight straight games at home and including top 10 wins against UConn, Ohio State and Iowa. So just putting in a really complete resume peaking at the right time going into the tournament,” coach Brenda Frese said. “I mean, this team’s gonna go down as a really special group.”
To understand the elation around the Iowa win, go back to where the program was last spring. Frese’s squad was coming off of its worst-ever performance in the Big Ten tournament, failing to reach the final for the first time since joining the conference in 2014, and crashed out of the NCAA tournament in the Sweet 16 after falling to Final Four-bound Stanford.
All-conference players Ashley Owusu and Angel Reese and role player Mimi Collins transferred shortly after. The exodus from College Park continued with the graduations of Katie Benzan and Chloe Bibby, and the only returning starter, Diamond Miller, had knee surgery in April.
Left on the roster were Faith Masonius, a rising senior who tore her ACL in January 2022; rising sophomore Shyanne Sellers, who averaged just 7.7 points per game last season; Lavender Briggs, a Florida transfer working her way back from a fractured shin and Emma Chardon, a rising sophomore who played sparingly in her first year.
“Last year we all know was a tough year, personally and professionally,” Frese said. “So to have all the changes … from our staff’s end, when we were looking at one point with seven, eight players on the roster, it was pretty daunting in the spring. You can ask my husband and my family.”
Frese brought in reigning Ivy League Player of the Year and Maryland native Abby Meyers, Vanderbilt’s leading scorer Brinae Alexander and South Florida’s starting point guard Elisa Pinzan in the offseason.
After fall workouts, Frese had to decide on a starting lineup. It took some tinkering, but she finally landed on Sellers, Miller, Meyers, Pinzan and Masonius. The final member had started just one game in her career.
The team formed an identity as the season progressed: Play fast, share the ball, limit turnovers and get in the other team’s face.
Many overlooked the Terps, Frese said. Maryland was ranked fourth in the Big Ten preseason coaches ranking — but it defied expectations en route to a 20-win season with four wins over top 10 opponents.
“To see the right pieces come together and fit and then to buy into a whole new system has been pretty incredible,” Frese said.
They fit perfectly Tuesday night at Xfinity Center.
Meyers grabbed nine rebounds, two short of her season high — to go with five assists and three steals. Pinzan ran the point and also had a pair of steals. Sellers nearly had a triple-double with 17 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
And there was the pair of Briggs and Alexander, who combined for 43 points off of the bench. Briggs had 19 points and five rebounds, but her biggest contribution came on the defensive side of the ball. For most of the evening, the Utah native guarded Caitlin Clark and held her to her second lowest scoring game of the year.
“It feels great to finally have a game like this after I feel like I’ve been working hard,” Briggs said. “I’ve had a hard season, so it just feels good.”
Alexander, who said she loves being here, regained her scoring touch. After shooting 15 percent from three over her last eight games, she made six of nine attempts versus Iowa and finished with a game-high 24 points, just two short of her career best.
“I was due for a good shooting game,” Alexander said. “But also at the same time, I think my defense fuels my offense, and I really try to, when shots aren’t falling, that’s one thing I can keep consistent.”
Their performance is also a credit to Frese. The coach lost two stars in the offseason but reloaded her roster. She got her players to accept new and occasionally less-glamorous roles for the team to have collective success.
The results are clear — the Terps just overwhelmed the sixth-ranked team in the country. They’re not done either.
“Letting them enjoy it tonight,” Frese said. “But then, this is our three games in seven days the second time around. So just understanding what it takes to come back down from that and being ready to finish this out.”