The No. 8 Maryland Terrapins (18-2, 14-1 Big Ten) will be facing their toughest opponent since their lone Big Ten loss to the No. 15 Ohio State Buckeyes on Jan. 25 when they take on the now-unranked Northwestern Wildcats (13-5, 11-5 Big Ten) at 4 p.m. ET on Sunday (ESPN2).
Maryland’s dominance over the last month has been well-documented. It has won seven games in a row with an average margin of victory of 31.7 over that span. The streak includes a 45-point win over Illinois on Feb. 17 and an 111-point effort against Iowa on Feb. 23 that saw the Terps score 41 points in the first quarter and senior sharpshooter Katie Benzan break the program record for 3-pointers in a game with nine.
During their win streak, Maryland has shared the ball beautifully with sophomore point guard Ashley Owusu averaging 7 assists per game.
However, even before the Ohio State loss, the Terps only had two games against Big Ten teams that are currently better than Northwestern: a Dec. 14 win over No. 25 Rutgers and a Jan. 4 win over No. 11 Indiana. In this strange season, they have not been able to play No. 12 Michigan at all, nor have they found a rematch against Rutgers, Indiana or Ohio State.
In nonconference play, Maryland defeated No. 16 Arkansas on Nov. 29 after losing to No. 23 Missouri State the day before, making them 3-2 against ranked opponents this season. When you see that they only have three Top 25 wins, you understand why the Terps are not currently on the 1-seed line, which is where they want to get to fulfill what likely would have happened last year.
To get there, Maryland likely needs to win out and get a lot of help.
At the end of last season or the beginning of this season, one would have thought this Maryland/Northwestern matchup would be a great one and that it may be deciding the Big Ten regular season champion. Maryland controls its own destiny with regards to that and can clinch with a win and Indiana losing either of its last two games or by winning both of its remaining games. However, for Northwestern, a championship is not on the line.
Back-to-back losses for the Wildcats on Feb. 11 and Feb. 17 had them going in the complete opposite direction from the Terps and though they have rebounded with wins over lowly Wisconsin and Illinois on Feb. 20 and Feb. 24, respectively, they are big underdogs in this game.
Owusu is now challenging Michigan’s Naz Hillmon for Big Ten Player of the Year, which was thought to be impossible after Hillmon dropped 50 points on Jan. 21. She is averaging 19.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 6 assists on the season. Sophomore wing Diamond Miller is second on Maryland in scoring with 17.7 points per game and adds 6 rebounds per contest. Benzan (15.3 points per game) and senior forward Chloe Bibby (13.9) also score in double figures for the Terps, while redshirt sophomore forward Mimi Collins (9.7) has been a key contributor throughout the season as well.
However, Collins is going to see less playing time now that No. 2 Hoop Gurlz recruit Angel Reese, a freshman forward, is back from a foot fracture. Reese had team highs with 17 points, nine rebounds and three blocks on Thursday against Purdue and her return gives Maryland a legitimate chance to go far in the NCAA Tournament.
Owusu’s main concern will be taking care of the ball against Northwestern junior guard Veronica Burton, who averages 4.2 steals per game. Burton is also the Wildcats’ leading scorer with 16.7 points per game and averages 5.1 assists. Senior guard Lindsey Pulliam (16.4) and junior guard/forward Sydney Wood (12.6) join her in double-figure scoring.
No. 8 Maryland Terrapins (18-2, 14-1 Big Ten) vs. Northwestern Wildcats (13-5, 11-5 Big Ten)
When: Sunday, Feb. 28, at 4 p.m. ET
Where: Welsh-Ryan Arena in Evanston, IL
How to watch/listen: ESPN2/Radio: WNUR Sports
Key to the matchup: Northwestern generating offense. The Wildcats haven’t scored 70-plus points since an 87-80 win over Iowa on Jan. 28. Maryland gives up 72.2 points per game, though, so Northwestern may be able to get there in this one. The Wildcats still have the best turnover margin in the nation at 10.6, so we know they are going to do well there as always. And we know Maryland is going to score its points and make its free throws and dominate the boards. Northwestern needs to come up with a hot shooting night to supplement its easy fast break points off turnovers if it wants to keep pace with Maryland.
Reason to watch: Finally we get to see the matchup between the reigning Big Ten regular season champs. See if Maryland can pick up a quality win, though not a ranked one.