No. 22 Northwestern women’s basketball (17-2, 7-1 B1G), riding a five-game win streak, will be looking to relive one of the high points of its season and prove itself once again Sunday afternoon against the No. 20 Maryland Terrapins (15-4, 6-2) in College Park.
In what is shaping up as a critical matchup in the battle at the top of the Big Ten, the Wildcats will be putting their perfect 6-0 record in road games on the line against a Terrapin team that has suffered just a single home loss this year.
The last time these two teams faced off made history. The then-unranked ‘Cats defeated the then-#12 Terps 81-58 for their first win ever over UMD. NU outshot Maryland by 28 percent from behind the arc and scored 29 points off 24 forced turnovers, ending 2019 with a bang. Ultimately, defense won the game for the ‘Cats, as it has all season long.
Not much has changed for Northwestern since the matchup when it comes to caliber of play, outside of an aberration in their blowout loss to Iowa. However, the team has finally begun to earn the respect they deserve as a top contender in both the conference and the nation as a whole.
Coming into the first matchup, it was the big-time Maryland players who held the spotlight, leading the Big Ten in almost every stat category. Now, the tables have turned somewhat, with Northwestern’s stars as the ones to fear.
Veronica Burton has been simply unstoppable. After being named to the Naismith Women’s Defensive Player of the Year Midseason Watch List on Thursday, she went on a tear, charting 22 points, eight rebounds, a career-high six steals, three assists and two blocks in the 76-48 blowout of Michigan State. Her six steals added to a season-high 19 takeaways for the ‘Cats.
She now leads the conference with 75 steals and 3.9 steals per game and has recorded 20 more than any other player in the conference – Maryland’s Blair Watson coming in second with 55. She is also second in assists per game with 5.3, and sports an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.7, second only to teammate Sydney Wood.
Maryland native Lindsey Pulliam has continued her impressive junior campaign. She also scored 22 points in the Michigan State win, her eighth 20-point performance this season. After a prolonged cold stretch, the scorer seems to have her mojo back, and now sits in fourth in the conference in points per game with 18.5.
Finally, Abi Scheid has been a major contributor in the team’s successes as of late. She has dominated behind the arc and leads the conference (among qualified players) with 47.4 percent shooting from three and 46 made threes overall this season. Her recent success increased her season scoring total to 11.9 points per game.
While Northwestern has been hot, so have the Terps. They earned each of their last four wins by a decisive margin, including ranked victories over both No. 24 Michigan and No. 17 Indiana by 14 points each. Since the last matchup with Northwestern, Maryland has only dropped one game: also to Iowa, by just five points.
Despite dropping two conference games and four games total this season, Maryland still sits higher than Northwestern in the rankings. As a result, Sunday’s matchup has major implications both in conference and nationally, marking what will likely be the Wildcats’ last chance to earn a truly marquee win this season. The Terps have also posted an impressive 9-1 home record this season, with their only home loss coming to currently top-ranked South Carolina back in November.
Like last matchup, Maryland comes into the game leading the conference with 81.5 points per game. But as mentioned above, it was Northwestern’s defense that won the day last time — the second-best scoring defense in the Big Ten, allowing just 54.1 points per game.
Maryland’s offense is led by five players averaging double-digit scoring this season. Senior guard/forward and preseason Big Ten Player of the Year Kaila Charles leads the team with 14.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. Sophomore forward Shakira Austin comes in second with 11.9 points per game. Ashley Owusu, Stephanie Jones and Taylor Mikesell all add significantly to the conference-leading total as well.
The Terrapins have plenty of size, with Jones and Austin leading the way underneath, but plenty of shooting as well: Mikesell, though she is going through a cold streak, is ever-dangerous from beyond the arc, hitting 41 percent of her threes, and Blair Watson averages more than two three-point makes per game. The bench runs just nine deep, but each of those nine can hurt an opponent uniquely on the offensive end.
Ultimately, Northwestern knows what it takes to beat Maryland, but a road win over the 20th-ranked team in the nation is no easy feat. If the ‘Cats can, somehow, pull out this win, they will reach a new level of elite — solidifying their dominance over one of the most talented teams in the nation.
Northwestern and Maryland will tip off Sunday at noon at the Xfinity Center on BTN+.