With just under five minutes to go in the fourth quarter and the game tied at 68, Ashley Owusu came down the floor for Maryland, trying to create space off the dribble near the left elbow.
Owusu sized up her defender, put on some dribble moves and stepped back, knocking down the long jumper to take a two-point lead.
From there, the Terps went on a 5-0 run to gain a seven-point advantage, a large enough cushion to secure a 83-73 win and advance to the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament.
“Welcome to March,” Frese said following the win. “This game definitely looked and felt a lot different.”
It was a battle in Indianapolis as Maryland opened postseason play with a difficult matchup against Nebraska. The No. 8 seeded Cornhuskers were relentless on defense, pressuring Maryland at every turn and making it difficult for the No. 1 scoring offense in the country.
The Terps finished the first half with just 38 points and led by four. Mimi Collins kept Maryland afloat on offense, knocking down her first six jumpers of the game. Chloe Bibby also finished the first half with 13 points, including three deep balls.
With the game tied midway through the first quarter at eight a piece, Maryland turned on the defensive pressure, creating havoc for the Cornhuskers, which allowed the Terps to go on a 7-0 run. Nebraska finished the first quarter making just one of its last ten attempts and the Terps led by seven after 10 minutes of action.
The last time these two teams played in February, Maryland came away with a 22-point victory. However, Nebraska wasn’t going to roll over in this one. The Cornhuskers crawled back in the second period, dominating Maryland on the boards.
Nebraska won the rebounding battle by seven in the first half and seven for the game. Cornhuskers guard Ashley Scoggin went off with four three pointers in the first half including three coming in the second frame. However, she did not make a three pointer in the second half.
“We had some breakdowns defensively that we needed to clean up,” Frese said. “When you talk about being able to communicate and work through, which I thought we did a better job of [in the second half].”
The third quarter continued to be a back-and-forth affair between the two opponents, with Maryland up three entering the fourth. Nebraska came out firing in the fourth, taking an early 60-57 lead with nine minutes to go. The Cornhuskers shot 42% from beyond the arc for the game.
From there, it was the Ashley Owusu show. The unanimous selection for first team All-Big Ten was phenomenal down the stretch, taking over with timely baskets for the Terps, including 11 straight for her team at one point in the quarter. Owusu finished the game with 22 points, 13 of them coming in the final frame. Owusu also recorded nine rebounds and eight assists.
“She was tremendous,” Frese said. “She was a facilitator more in the first half and then really understands when this team needs a bucket. She just continues to do what Ashley does. She wants the responsibility. She wants to make the big play, whether it’s a score or assist.”
Maryland moves to 17-2 in the Big Ten tournament and has never been eliminated before the championship game. Last year, the Terps captured the championship and Owusu was named Most Outstanding Player of the Big Ten tournament.
“I like this tournament,” Frese said. “Who doesn’t like to be under the spotlight and come out and have fun with their team.”
Owusu wasn’t the only point guard who showed out. On the other side, Cornhuskers guard Sam Haiby battled with Owusu all game, trading baskets on both ends. She finished with 24 points.
With the win, Maryland has won eleven straight and advances to the Big Ten semifinal where they will face the winner of the Northwestern/Michigan matchup on Friday.