Feature photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.
In its last time out, Maryland started slow against Rutgers and let the Scarlet Knights stay in the game in the first half.
Brenda Frese’s team will look to pull away early and keep their foot on the gas on Thursday against an Illinois team that struggles to score. The Fighting Illini rank 11th in the Big Ten in both scoring and shooting percentage. They score 63 points per game on 39.5 percent shooting.
Illinois’ struggles on offense this season led to losses to inferior opponents, so it won’t get any easier against No. 3 Maryland. The Illini lost to the likes of Marshall, Mercer and South Dakota in nonconference play and have already accumulated four losses by a total of 96 points in conference play.
Head coach Matt Bollant’s team has been heavily outrebounded in Big Ten play, which has allowed opponents to pull away against Illinois. The Illini have been outrebounded by a conference-worst 63 boards in their seven Big Ten games.
Besides the rebounding, 3-point shooting has been another serious problem in Champaign this season. The Fighting Illini shoot only 30.6 percent from long range, which ranks 13th in the conference.
However, when they do need a 3-pointer, the Illini can turn to freshmen Ali Andrews and Courtney Joens. Joens ranks 15th in the Big Ten, shooting 36.8 percent from deep, and Andrews would rank seventh at 39.6 percent if she qualified. Despite the solid shooting percentage, Joens and Andrews each only average about one made 3-pointer per game, which means Illinois gets most of its offense from inside the arc.
That inside offense comes from sophomore forward Alex Wittinger, who leads the team in scoring and rebounding with 15 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. She shoots 50 percent from the field and 77.8 percent from the free-throw line.
Wittinger is also the leader of a solid Illinois defense that isn’t indicative of its 8-12 record. The 6-foot-1 forward’s 2.4 blocks per game leads the Big Ten and aids the Illini in allowing only 66.7 points per game. The team also defends the 3-point line incredibly well, holding opponents to 30 percent shooting from long range.
The Illini have defended well this season, but they haven’t faced an offense anything like Maryland’s. The Terps rank second in the country in scoring and shooting percentage, and they lead the Big Ten in almost every major statistical category.
Maryland’s offensive attack is led by Brionna Jones, who leads the team in scoring and rebounding and has recorded 10 consecutive double-doubles. Jones’ fellow senior Shatori Walker-Kimbrough is second on the team in scoring and leads the team in free throw and 3-point percentage.
The seniors lead the Terps on offense, but Brenda Frese has two freshman guards on her team who average double scoring figures in conference play—Kaila Charles and Destiny Slocum. Charles is coming off her best game as a Terp, dropping 18 points in Maryland’s 80-71 win over Rutgers on Sunday.
The win over Rutgers improved Maryland’s record to 19-1 overall and 7-0 in the Big Ten, but apparently its resume doesn’t yet warrant a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The NCAA selection committee came out with its early reveal of its current top 16 seeds on Tuesday, and Maryland was seeded ninth.
Frese’s Terps will have to keep winning if they want to prove to the committee that they are worthy of a No. 1 seed, and the road to the top starts in Illinois on Thursday. The game tips off at 8 p.m. at the State Farm Center in Champaign and can be seen on BTN2GO.
Edited by Austin Kleber.
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