When Maryland women’s basketball last played Illinois in January, it was an offensive outburst. The two combined to shoot 51 percent from the floor and made 14 threes in a rapidly paced Terps win.
For all the offensive prowess the first contest had, Sunday’s rematch was just as ugly. The two teams combined for 33 turnovers and made just six total three pointers.
Maryland prevailed to win its second straight road game, defeating Illinois 69-53, the first time this season the Terps have secured consecutive road victories.
“I think the turnovers took [us] out of the rhythm offensively, but I do think we have improved defensively,” coach Brenda Frese said was the difference between January’s game and Sunday’s.
Wins away from Xfinity Center will certainly boost Maryland’s tournament resume. Illinois is ranked 54 in the NET rankings, which makes Sunday’s win a Quad 1 victory.
It also ensured Maryland some separation from the bottom of the conference. The Terps and Fighting Illini were knotted at 5-7 in the Big Ten standings entering Sunday. Michigan, which sits just above Maryland at seven in the conference, still has to face No. 2 Iowa and No. 5 Ohio State.
Maryland’s offense had a clear focus of dominating the interior in the opening quarter. The Terps scored 12 out of their first 15 points in the paint, establishing its wings against Illinois’ three-guard lineup. Six players registered a basket in the frame.
A 15-10 lead at the end of the first could have been larger if Maryland, which turned the ball over six times, was more careful. Illinois was unable to convert on a majority of those opportunities, scoring seven points off turnovers in the first half.
“I thought they were more unforced than anything,” Frese said.
With just seven minutes remaining in the first half, the Terps had already tallied 10 turnovers. Maryland turned it over 16 times in its win at Rutgers and they followed a similar script on Sunday.
Maryland, which scores nearly 80 points per game, looked disjointed Sunday. Leading scorer Shyanne Sellers only took four first half shots and the Terps did not make a three to finish the opening half with just 27 points.
The Terps instead relied on their typically leaky defense. Illinois shot 25.7 percent from the field and made just one of their six three point tries. The Fighting Illini went 6-16 on layups and scored fewer than a point per possession.
“We were walling up on defense, very active and moving together on a string,” Lavender Briggs said.
Illinois’s leading scorer Makira Cook scored just one point in the first half. Frese toggled between a person-to-person and zone look to rattle Cook and disrupt the Fighting Illini offense.
The turnovers persisted in the third quarter. Illinois was not immune to coughing the ball up either, turning it over five times in the third frame. At the two minute mark, Maryland had 18 giveaways, but had still scored more points off turnovers than Illinois.
“I think having better transition defense is good for us in the long run because sometimes our transition defense is a little wishy-washy,” Sellers said.
Bench contributions were the difference. Allie Kubek, whose minutes have dwindled in recent weeks, played her best game in months. Kubek scored 17 points in Maryland and Illinois’ January matchup. She nearly matched that production Sunday and finished with 13 points.
But it was Sellers who scored the biggest basket of the game. She converted on an and-one layup to push Maryland ahead by 10 with 6:33 to go. Illinois’ offense was ill-suited to shoot itself back from that deficit.