Maryland women’s basketball uses strong start to beat Northwestern

By: Brandon Simberg

The Maryland women’s basketball team defeated Northwestern 72-51 on Thursday night at the Xfinity Center. It was the sixth straight win for the Terps, who are now in first place in the Big Ten at 10-2.

The Terrapins used a strong defensive effort in the first quarter to jump out to a 22-8 lead. Northwestern missed their first 12 shots and turned the ball over four times. Maryland continuously pressured the ball and did not allow the Wildcats to get off many clean looks.

“We came in really locked in. We were aggressive out in the passing lanes in our press and we made them take difficult shots,” said Maryland head coach Brenda Frese. “We were able to keep them one-and-done on the glass, which is big with how good they are at rebounding.”

Northwestern’s zone defense initially caused some problems for the Terps but Sara Vujacic subbed in off the bench and broke the zone down. In fact, the second quarter was all Vujacic as the junior guard went a perfect 4-4 from the field en route to 10 points.

“It all comes from practice. I’ve just been trying to focus on practice and knowing that [coach Frese] trusts me, it brings a lot of confidence,” said Vujacic, who scored double-digit points for only the second time this season.

As a team, Maryland was 6-of-10 from the 3-point line in the first half, which helped them get out to a 41-20 halftime lead. They also did a stout job defensively, holding Northwestern’s leading scorer Lindsey Pulliam to nine points on 4-of-14 shooting.

The Wildcats made a slight run in the second half and won both the third quarter and fourth quarters. But any time the lead creeped towards single digits, Kaila Charles had the answer. The junior guard scored 10 in the second half, using an array of moves to go by her defenders.

“Now I can drive to the basket with confidence,” said Charles when asked about her improved handle. “Being able to draw the defense to create double teams or just draw the defense to get my teammates open has definitely helped our game overall as a team.”

Charles and Vujacic weren’t the only players in double figures. Forward Stephanie Jones led the team in scoring with 16 points on an efficient 7-8. She also snagged down a team-high nine rebounds. Taylor Mikesell added 11 on 3-of-4 shooting from deep.

While she didn’t score a ton, Blair Watson had contributions all over the court, finishing with six points, six rebounds and six assists. It was her first 5-5-5 game of the season.

The schedule does not get any easier for the Terrapins. On Sunday they will take on Rutgers, who handed Maryland their first loss of the season 73-65 back in December.

“We didn’t play our best game when we played them and they played one of their best games,” said coach Frese looking ahead to Sunday’s battle. “We know when you go up to the RAC, it’s a whole different beast.”