No. 8 Maryland wins Big Ten with 71-62 victory over Illinois
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — Overcoming the inexperience associated with youth, two lopsided losses and an injury to the only senior on the team, Maryland showed its resilience in locking up another Big Ten regular season title.
Taylor Mikesell scored 20 points, Stephanie Jones had 14 points and nine rebounds, and No. 8 Maryland beat Illinois 71-62 on Saturday to win the conference.
Having already clinched at least a share of first place, the Terrapins (26-3, 15-3) eliminated Iowa to secure the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. Maryland has either won or shared the regular season title in four of its five years in the conference.
This year was particularly special, given that Mikesell and fellow freshman Shakira Austin have been heavily counted on to contribute and that the lone senior, forward Brianna Fraser, has been sidelined down the stretch with a sprained left ankle. It didn’t look good for the Terps after they lost by 17 at Michigan State on Jan. 17 and 86-73 at Iowa on Feb. 17, but by late Saturday afternoon, players were wearing red shirts and hats that read “B1G 2019 Women’s Champions.”
“It’s been a test of how we were going to respond, and you can see what the response has been,” coach Brenda Frese said. “Any time we had a bump in the road or a setback — when you look at Michigan State or you look at Iowa beating us — we didn’t hang our head, we didn’t feel sorry for ourselves. It speaks volumes for this team.”
Austin scored 13 points and Blair Watson added 12 for the Terrapins, who closed the season with an 11-1 stretch. In this one, Maryland withstood foul trouble, a bench weakened by the loss of Fraser and 13 turnovers.
“I thought collectively we had to pull together through some adversity,” Frese said. “I continue to love seeing this team being able to find a way. I feel like we’re battle-tested and ready to go to Indy for the Big Ten Tournament.”
Alex Wittinger had 20 points and 11 rebounds for last-place Illinois (10-19, 2-16).
“She’s been the anchor in our program for several years,” coach Nancy Fahey said. “It’s good when you see her give the kind of effort, get the opportunity to shoot the ball.”
Coming close wasn’t good enough for Fahey.
“We’re trying to build a program here,” she said. “To do that, you have to come out and show up. We came up short but our effort was good.”
Seeking to go 10-0 against Illinois, the Terrapins never trailed after the game’s opening 3 ½ minutes. Maryland led 22-14 after the first quarter and boosted the margin to 10 before Courtney Joens scored eight points in a seven-minute span to make it 37-33 at halftime.
Using three field goals by Wittinger, Illinois pulled even at 39 early in the second half. Mikesell followed with a 3-pointer to launch a 12-3 spree that concluded with Watson drilling a shot from deep in the left corner and Austin converting a three-point play.
Minutes later, Watson hit a 3-pointer to give Maryland a 54-44 lead entering the fourth quarter.
After the Fighting Illini closed to 58-52, Watson hit a 3 and Austin popped a jumper in the lane to secure the win.
Illinois: The Fighting Illini put up a good fight, which could be cause for optimism in their effort to squeeze out a win or two in the Big Ten Tournament.
Maryland: It wasn’t the Terrapins’ most dominant performance, but still good enough to seal a solid run to close out the regular season.
Fraser was honored before the team’s final home game. Then she took a seat, wearing a boot over the sprained left ankle she sustained Feb. 21 against Minnesota. Frese said Fraser, who’s averaging 7.8 points and 17½ minutes per game, is day-to-day.
Illinois: Wittinger blocked one shot and stands one short of tying the school career record of 271, held by Karisma Penn (2009-13).
Maryland: The Terps need two more wins to become the 11th Division I women’s program to reach 1,000. Also, Mikesell nailed four 3-pointers and needs five to match the school single-season record of 91 set by Kristi Toliver in 2008-09. Austin blocked four shots and needs four more to eclipse the single-season Maryland record of 80, held by Kris Kirchner (1978-79).
Illinois: Opens play Wednesday in Big Ten Tournament.
Maryland: Begins play Friday in Big Ten Tournament.