By: Cody Wilcox
The ACC/ Big Ten Women’s Challenge has returned for the 12th consecutive season. This year, Maryland will host the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in College Park on Thursday night.
Last year, Maryland traveled to Charlottesville, Virginia, to take on the Virginia Cavaliers in the challenge. After Kaila Charles’ layup put the Terps up with 40 seconds to play, the Terps won 60-59 and improved their record to 10-1 all-time in the annual early-season challenge.
The ACC and Big Ten remain some of the most competitive conferences in women’s basketball. Last year, the ACC sent eight teams to the NCAA Tournament and the Big Ten sent six. In the Big Ten/ ACC matchup last year, 10 of the 14 games were decided by 10 points or fewer, including four games being decided by one point. The ACC would ultimately win the challenge, going 10-4 against Big Ten teams.
This year, Maryland (6-0) will host the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (5-1) in College Park on Thursday.
Here are three things to know before they tip off for the ACC/Big Ten Women’s Challenge:
The last time that Maryland and Georgia Tech played in College Park was on January 19, 2014. The Terps, who were still a part of the ACC at the time, hosted the Yellow Jackets and won 92-81 behind Alyssa Thomas’ 22 points and 14 rebounds.
For Georgia Tech, Kaela Davis and Tyaunna Marshall led with way with 27 points and 22 points respectively. They finished shooting a combined 18-48 from the field.
More than a month later, on February 23, 2014, Maryland traveled to Georgia Tech to complete their two-game season sweep over the Yellow Jackets. The Terps contributed 60 points in the paint to beat the Yellow Jackets 79-62 and give Brenda Frese her 300th career win at Maryland.
When facing Georgia Tech, Maryland is 49-18 all-time and 7-1 when hosting them at the XFINITY Center.
Being familiar with the Yellow Jackets, Maryland head coach Brenda Frese says she’s looking forward to facing them again through the ACC/ Big Ten challenge.
“I love the challenge. I think any competitor would. I think it just puts a fun, extra layer anytime you get play high level competition,” Frese said. “We’ve had great battles through the years with Georgia Tech so it’s something that we really look forward to with the matchup.”
The Yellow Jackets began their season with a double-overtime 95-89 loss to the University of Houston. Since, Georgia Tech has won five straight, including a 10-point victory over the Georgia Lady Bulldogs, who the Terps barely skated by in Puerto Rico on Saturday..
The Yellow Jackets are expected to bring their offensive balance when they come to College Park Thursday. Four of Georgia Tech’s five starters are averaging double figures, including junior Francesca Pan. The 6-foot-1-inch guard had 18 points in their previous matchup against Idaho State last week, putting her in Georgia Tech’s record books with 1,000 career points.
“This is one of [Georgia Tech head coach] MaChelle Joseph’s best teams I’ve ever seen,” Frese said. “To have that many talented players scoring the basketball for them, we’re going to have to really have a great defensive mindset.”
Along with a strong defensive game plan, Maryland, averaging a nation’s best 52.33 rebounds per game, will be expected to control the boards once again. Georgia Tech averages 16 offensive rebounds per game, and second chance opportunities could result in foul trouble for the Terps.
Stephanie Jones says that rebounding is something that the team has emphasized in preparation ahead of Thursday’s matchup.
“Rebounding is going to be huge,” Jones said. “Especially coming off of Georgia, where we didn’t have our best rebounding game. But just knowing that we need to come back and really focus in on it.”
Jones has been solid thus far this season for the fairly young Terps. During Maryland’s appearance in the Puerto Rico Clasico tournament last week, Jones contributed 10 points and 11 rebounds against Morgan State and a season-high 21 points against a ranked Georgia team.
“I thought [Stephanie] Jones was our MVP for the tournament,” Frese said. “She put the team on her back both days. And the consistent toughness that we had to have for both days, I thought she was huge for us.”
Jones is currently second on the team in scoring average, with 14.3 per game, and in rebounding, with 8.2. Although Maryland is only six games into the season, and it is a slight improvement from last season’s 10.8 points per game and 6.5 rebounds per game, Jones has come up big for the Terps.
“Nothing has really changed,” Jones said. “Just knowing that it’s coming down to my last two seasons so just knowing how I want to finish it. And just go out and play hard every day, and try to win with these guys.”
Frese says that she has noticed the Maryland forward display high levels of confidence, toughness and aggressiveness throughout the season.
“As a junior, that’s the mentality that you want to see from your players,” Frese said.
Georgia Tech and Maryland will tip off at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the XFINITY Center and can be watched on the Big Ten Network.