As the Maryland women’s basketball team tore apart the Northwestern zone defense in the first quarter, it seemed clear that their 10th conference win was in the cards.
The Terps finished the night with four players scoring in double digits, and junior forward Stephanie Jones was at the helm all night.
Jones tallied a team-best 16 points and nine rebounds, leading the relentless Maryland offense that built a 21-point lead at halftime. Also adding to the Terps’ lead was junior guard Kaila Charles, who finished with 12 points and freshman guard Taylor Mikesell with 11 points.
Junior guard Sara Vujacic was on fire in the first half, leading the Terps at the half with 10 points and dominating from behind the arc to help lift the Terps to a 72-57 victory over the Wildcats (14-9, 7-5 Big Ten).
“I loved her response,” head coach Brenda Frese said. “She had a quick turnover when she came into the game and she didn’t hang her head and dwell on it, just made great plays for us tonight. That’s the depth that we want to extend to.”
The Wildcats struggled with execution from the start, and only reached double digits early in the second quarter. Their leading rebounder, senior forward Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah, is ranked third in the Big Ten in rebounding, just above freshman forward Shakira Austin, but her 11 rebounds could not overcome the Wildcats’ scoring woes.
Though the Wildcats were getting decent looks at the basket, they only had five points near the end of the first quarter. At the half, Northwestern was shooting just 20 percent from the field compared with Maryland, who was shooting 52 percent.
“We came in really locked into the game,” Frese said. “We were aggressive out in passing lanes in our press, making them have to take difficult shots, and we were able to get them one and done on the glass.”
Vujacic found success early against the Wildcat’s zone and offensive rebounds for easy layups, and also from behind the arc with two three-pointers in the first half.
“She made us pay,” Northwestern head coach Joe McKeown said. “When they can spread you out, it’s just hard to match up inside and out.”
After Jones started the second half with a quick four points, the Wildcats kicked it up a notch with a full-court press on the Terps inbounds plays. The added pressure may have allowed Northwestern to outscore Maryland 18-14 in the third quarter, but they needed a miracle to overcome the lead Maryland built in the first half.
A balanced offensive attack and solid defense will be key to the Terps’ next matchup, a rematch against No. 20 Rutgers on Sunday. The Scarlet Knights gave the Terps their first loss of the season, 73-65, when they played Dec. 31.
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