By: Cody Wilcox
Despite a combined 33 points from Taylor Mikesell and Kaila Charles, Rutgers beat Maryland 73-65 on New Years Eve; causing the Terps to enter into the 2019 year with their first loss of the season.
Rutgers’ win against Maryland was their first top-10 victory since 2009, as the Terps were ranked as the No. 4 team in the country at the time, and can be credited to the combined performances of redshirt senior Stasha Carey and junior guard Ciani Cryor. Carey, coming off the bench, led the team with 18 points as Cryor nearly completed a triple-double with 12 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds.
A lot has changed since Maryland walked off of the Xfinity Center court in defeat against the Knights in 2018. As the Terps look to even the regular series up against Rutgers today, they could present the Knights with some unfamiliar faces and correct a few things that plagued them in the first matchup.
Maryland is coming off a win over Northwestern, their six consecutive victory, earlier this week, while Rutgers has lost two of their last four games.
If the Terps are going to be successful in round two against the Knights, they will have to control the first quarter much better than they did in the previous matchup. Despite Maryland taking the lead in the opening minutes off of a Charles lay-up, Rutgers outside shooting and physicality in the paint allowed them to put up 28 points in the opening quarter against Maryland– the most against the Terps this year.
However, Maryland has shown improvement in this area. By the end of the first quarter against Northwestern, the Terps limited the Wildcats to 13 percent from the field and 1-of-5 from beyond the arc as they leaped out to a 22-8 lead. Thursday’s game against Northwestern marked the fifth time this season that Maryland has held their opponents to under 10 points in the first quarter.
“Were definitely locking into our defense,” Charles said on the upcoming matchup. “And defense leads to offense so we just have to be able to execute.”
After not playing in the first contest, junior guard Sara Vujacic should be one player that will look to make an impact this time around. Coming out of Water State Community College, Vujacic was expected to play a large role on the Terps with her ability to spread the floor and to fill junior guard Blair Watson’s role as she rehabbed from her torn ACL in January of 2018.
Leading up to the first matchup with Rutgers, Vujacic averaged 11.3 minutes and scored in the double-digits only once— in their game against UMBC. However, Vujacic has gained some momentum in the past five games, including a 10-point performance off the bench against Northwestern earlier this week, and is averaging 18 minutes per game in those contests.
Although Vujacic’s minutes have fluctuated throughout the season, the junior has been able to keep her turnovers low and stable in her first year as a Terp. In her 249 minutes of playing time, Vujacic has only committed nine turnovers, which calculates to one turnover in about every 28 minutes. She is currently holding the third-lowest amount of turnovers on the team, behind Sarah Myers and Olivia Owens, who currently have the least amount of minutes on the team.
Vujacic does not handle the ball very much, as Channise Lewis and Taylor Mikesell monitor the majority of the ball handling duties, but against a Rutgers team that was able to score 19 points off of Maryland’s 15 turnovers in the first matchup, she could be the scoring spark that Frese calls upon while limiting the number of times they give the ball away.
Maryland is currently at the top of the Big Ten standings, while Rutgers is one game behind. The winner of today’s match up will not only establish what team will retain the first place position in the Big Ten, but could ultimately decide the Big Ten regular season champion.
Since both teams joined the Big Ten conference in 2015, Maryland has three more regular season titles than Rutgers. The Knights best conference finish came in their first season with the Big Ten where they would tie Northwestern for fourth place.
Following the game against Rutgers, the Terps remaining five opponents wield a conference record of 27-33. Whereas, Rutgers has six more games against teams that hold a 31-40 conference record.
“We’re always motivated to play and want to win,” Frese said. “We always take great pride anytime we step out on the floor, so we are as motivated for this game as we would be for any.”