Maryland women’s basketball beats Illinois, claims outright conference title

By: Brandon Simberg

The Maryland women’s basketball defeated the Illinois Fighting Illini 71-62 on Saturday to clinch the Big Ten Regular season title. Maryland has now won three straight games since losing at Iowa a few weeks back.

Maryland got off to a hot start, leading 22-14 after the first quarter. They dominated the glass early with seven offensive rebounds. Three coming from freshman Shakira Austin who finished with 13 points, 9 rebounds and four blocks. She credits her stellar defensive performance to the preparation in practice this week.

“I was focused on not letting number 35 (Alex Wittinger) get the ball because when she gets the ball she doesn’t need a lot of space to get the shot up,” Austin said. “We go through a lot of their sets so we focused hard this week on making sure we know if it’s a stagger  or if I need to help more.”

However, the second quarter would not go as well as the first. Maryland shot just 7-17 and allowed the Illini to creep back in. Wittinger was a big part of that effort. She finished the half with 10 points and seven rebounds while scoring in a variety of ways.

The third quarter also got off to a rough start for Maryland. After five consecutive missed shots by Maryland, the Fighting Illini tied the game at 39. But then freshman Taylor Mikesell drained a 3-pointer to regain the lead which they would not lose again. Mikesell finished with a team high 20 points.

“They both want to make plays,” said Maryland head coach Brenda Frese when asked about the play of freshmen Mikesell and Austin.  “They want the responsibility. They want the ownership and they are big time players.”

Maryland used an 11-2 run to end the third quarter and take a 54-44 lead heading into the fourth. Illinois cut the lead to six but Blair Watson drained her fourth 3-pointer of the game to stop the Illini run. Watson tied her season high for 3-point makes in a game.

Reigning Big Ten Player of the Week Kaila Charles had a quiet game. scoring only 6 points. She played only 20 minutes due to some early foul trouble.

Aside from Mikesell, Austin and Watson, Stephanie Jones also contributed with 14 points and 9 rebounds.

With the win on Saturday, the Terps won the Big Ten outright and clinched the one seed in the upcoming Big Ten tournament. It is Maryland’s fourth Big Ten title since joining the conference five years ago.

“I’m most proud of the consistency factor. Winning the regular season title means you’re able to stay the course and I think that is significant,” Frese said. “I feel like we are battle tested and ready to go to Indy for the Big Ten Tournament.”

The Terrapins will travel to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Tournament. They will play the winner of the eight/nine matchup on Friday at noon.