MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — After Utah lost to Washington State in the Pac-12 Tournament Thursday, ESPN Bracketologist Charlie Creme tweeted that the loss took the Utes out of the top four in his projected NCAA tournament bracket. In its place, he put Maryland women’s basketball.
The Terps took care of business in their quarterfinal, taking down Illinois by 15 Saturday.
The last time they were a top four seed in the NCAA Tournament was back in 2015, when they fell to UConn in the Final Four. This season, Maryland has seven wins versus ranked teams, including blowout victories against Iowa and OSU, two of the other three teams that reached the Big Ten tournament semifinal.
The season hasn’t been perfect. The Terps lost to DePaul in late November, got blown out in the Big Ten opener to Nebraska and fell to the Hawkeyes by 14 at the beginning of February. Maryland knows it has room to improve to secure a strong finish to the conference tournament and make a national tournament run.
[No. 5 Maryland women’s basketball coasts past Illinois in Big Ten quarterfinal, 73-58]
“We’re a great team, but there’s always something to get better at,” Abby Meyers said. “As we play bigger teams down the stretch, we figure out ways to get those defensive rebounds and box out … defense is going to be our priority in wanting to get better down the road.”
Added Bri McDaniel: “We come in and just have our defense set the tone, that’s just gonna set up the game. Because once we get the defense rolling, everybody starts clicking.”
Maryland led for over 35 minutes in its quarterfinal and held the Fighting Illini to just seven points in the second quarter. It got 11 players into the game and had eight different scorers. The Terps also outscored the Illinois bench 28-0 and led by as much as 21.
Still, coach Brenda Frese had areas where she would like to see her team tighten things up.
“I thought early in the first half we settled for too many outside shots to start the game,” Frese said. “But they’re very good of kind of understanding the rhythm and the flow through the timeouts, but I think we’ve got to get there earlier.”
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Frese also said her team gave up a too many and-one plays and gifted the Fighting Illini extra points.
Illinois Coach Shauna Greene said that in addition to defense being key in making a deep tournament run, 3-point shooting would be crucial to Maryland’s postseason success. On Friday, the Terps shot just 25 percent from three.
“When they’re making their threes,” Greene said, “they’re impossible to beat … if they’re hitting from three, they have all the pieces that you need to make a deep run.”
But before Maryland can start thinking about the big dance, it must survive a rematch with Iowa. The last time these two sides met, the Terps won by 28 at home. But Minnesota is much closer to Iowa than Maryland — the attendance for the Hawkeyes’ quarterfinal win exceeded 8,000 and set an attendance record for a Big Ten tournament game.
“It’s gonna be a heck of a battle,” Frese said. “It’s gonna feel like a road game.”