No sharing this year: Maryland women take outright Big Ten regular season title
By Kareem Copeland,
The final buzzer sounded, and Diamond Miller sprinted toward Ashley Owusu, her roommate. The never-shy Miller grabbed the often-demure Owusu and shook her in celebration. Miller then turned and found Angel Reese for a leaping shoulder bump. Moments later, Reese made snow angels in the confetti on the court as Chloe Bibby scooped up more to sprinkle from above.
No. 8 Maryland had just secured the outright Big Ten regular season championship with an 88-61 win over Penn State on Saturday at Xfinity Center. The title is the sixth time in their seven years in the conference that the Terrapins have won at least a piece of the championship, but there would be no sharing in 2021.
Maryland (21-2, 17-1) closed the regular season on a 10-game winning streak and has the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament in Indianapolis. At 11 a.m. Thursday in the quarterfinals, Maryland will play No. 8 Nebraska or No. 9 Minnesota, which meet Wednesday. The Terps will be looking for their fifth Big Ten tournament title and their second in a row.
Family members were in attendance for the postgame celebration; Saturday’s game was the first time that fans were allowed in the building this season. Coach Brenda Frese wanted to savor the moment, so the Terps held a ceremony to present the trophy and cut down the nets, which teams typically don’t do for regular season titles.
“The reason I wanted to do it this year is it did hit differently,” Frese said. “We all recognize the fact that we’re in a pandemic, and there’s nothing guaranteed for tomorrow. Our purpose is to continue to play, but we saw a year ago when we were shut down completely and weren’t able to play in the NCAA tournament. We don’t want to take anything for granted. We want to cherish this body of work that our players and staff and everybody has put in.”
Maryland lost all five starters and five of its top six scorers from last season, but here it is, again, holding another trophy. Not only did the Terps dominate, but they led the nation in scoring and are on pace to break the program record of 89.6 points per game set by the 1977-78 squad. And last month, Frese surpassed Chris Weller as the winningest coach in program history.
Saturday’s blowout of Penn State (9-14, 6-13) came as no surprise; Maryland began the day ranked eighth in the nation in scoring margin, outpacing teams by 20.7 points. It took the Terps a little longer to stifle their opponent this time, but a few stern words from Frese at halftime helped them leave behind a relatively meager 12-point halftime lead.
“We weren’t playing to our standard,” Frese said. “Maybe the expectation to have your family and friends in the stands, for once, probably had an impression on us early. Once we settled down and kind of started playing the way we know how to defend and the way we know how to move the basketball on the offensive end, you saw a terrific response in the third quarter.”
That third quarter included a 21-2 run highlighted by three baskets apiece from Miller and Bibby. Penn State called a timeout after 10 straight points to set up Anna Camden for a run-breaking basket, but the Terps answered with an 11-point run. The Nittany Lions were never closer than 25 points the rest of the way.
Penn State finished with 23 turnovers, and Maryland had just 11.
“It was our energy,” Maryland’s Mimi Collins said. “Their pace was speeding us up, and we were just going back and forth. Coming in [at] halftime, understand that we have to run our own pace and do what we do best. We just fixed our mistakes really quickly.”
Bibby scored a team-high 15 points to go with nine rebounds and five assists. Miller finished with 14 points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals. Collins scored 10 first-quarter points and ended up with 12 as well as five rebounds. Owusu had 12 points, five rebounds and four assists, and Reese added 11 points and four rebounds off the bench. Katie Benzan had nine points, four rebounds, four assists and five steals.
Niya Beverley scored 15 points for Penn State, which shot just 36.9 percent.
Afterward, Frese grabbed a microphone and spoke to the small gathering in the stands as Bibby scooped confetti off the ground and threw it in the air for her and Collins to jump under. The moment wasn’t grandiose, but it was intimate and special for players who got to know one another over video conferences during the summer ahead of a season unlike any other.
“It was definitely special and very cool for our family to come and see us play, being this is our last home game,” Owusu said. “It just so happened that it was also a game for us to clinch the Big Ten. It was nice for them to come to see us finally play and celebrate with us from afar.”
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