No. 10 Maryland beats Northwestern 72-57 for 6th straight
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — As Maryland enters the pivotal part of the regular season, the Terrapins appear to possess all the necessary qualities to make a run at the Big Ten title.
They're deep, talented and, just as important, energized.
Stephanie Jones had 16 points and nine rebounds, reserve Sara Vujacic made all four of her shots during the decisive first half and No. 10 Maryland rolled past Northwestern 72-57 Thursday night for its sixth straight victory.
The Terrapins gained sole possession of first place in the Big Ten, a half-game ahead of Rutgers. Maryland (21-2, 10-2) faces the Scarlet Knights on the road Sunday, looking to avenge a 73-65 defeat on Dec. 31.
Judging by their performance in against the Wildcats, the Terps are ready to roll.
"In February you can get a pulse of where teams are at, whether they're ready to separate or they're fatigued," coach Brenda Frese said. "I can see it in our players' eyes. We have a ton of energy. It's just a focus and a mentality. We can see what lies ahead, and tonight was just a great start for us."
The Terrapins dominated Northwestern from start to finish. Vujacic scored 10 points to help Maryland take a 41-20 halftime lead, and the Jones opened the second half with two straight baskets to erase any chance of a comeback.
The fourth-place Wildcats (14-9, 7-5) came in riding a 5-1 streak and had won three straight on the road. But they missed their first 12 shots, fell behind by 19 early in the second quarter and never rallied in their most lopsided Big Ten loss of the season.
"Maryland is really talented," coach Joe McKeown said. "They showed why they're one of the best teams in the country right now. It's just so hard to guard them because they can score from a lot of different places."
When the Wildcats stacked their zone to stuff Jones and 6-foot-5 Shakira Austin inside, the Terps kicked the ball out to their guards. Maryland went 8 for 16 from beyond the arc, getting 3s from four different players.
"When they can spread you out, they're just hard to match up with, inside out," McKeown said.
Lindsey Pulliam tallied 18 points on 8-for-22 shooting and Abi Schied scored 16. Pallas Kunaiyi-Akpanah grabbed 13 rebounds, but her run of seven successive double-doubles ended with a 5-point performance in which she missed all nine of her field goal attempts.
During their 0-for-12 start from the field, the Wildcats got their only points from Kunaiyi-Akpanah at the foul line while falling behind 15-3.
"We came in really locked into the game," Frese said. "We were aggressive in the passing lanes, in our press, making them have to take difficult shots."
Schied finally made Northwestern's first basket with 2:12 left in a first quarter that ended with Maryland up 22-8.
Early in the quarter, Vujacic drilled a 3 and Jones made a layup for a 29-10 lead.
Vujacic, a junior college transfer and native of Slovenia, missed her only shot of the second half. But she scored in double figures for only the second time and easily topped her season average of 3.2 points per game.
"She hit some big 3s. We just didn't do a very good job finding her," McKeown said. "She made us pay."
CLEANING THE GLASS
Maryland finished with a 42-26 advantage in rebounding, even better than their average of plus-10.4 per game.
"We were able to get them one-and-done on the glass, which I thought was big with how strong they are in rebounding," Frese said.
Northwestern came in averaging 40.5 rebounds per game.
Northwestern: Though the Wildcats reside in the upper half of the standings, a game like this shows the separation between the league's upper crust and the second tier.
Maryland: It appears as if the Terrapins are back on course after stumbling at Michigan State on Jan. 17. Each of their six wins since then have been blowouts, and this one came against a pretty solid Northwestern squad.
Northwestern: The Wildcats travel to Minnesota on Sunday. It's a rematch of a Jan. 31 game won by the Golden Gophers 61-54.
Maryland: The Terps on Sunday will be looking to become the first team to win at Rutgers this season.