Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Guru’s WBB Report: No. 8 Maryland Out-Guns Iowa 111-93 in Big Ten Battle of Nation’s Top Two Offenses While Mississippi State Snaps Five-Game Losing Streak

By Mel Greenberg @womhoopsguru

Maryland’s XFINITY Center became a powder keg of exploding offenses Tuesday afternoon setting more records as the No. 8 Terrapins maintained their lead in the Big Ten with a 111-93 victory over visiting Iowa in College Park.

On the winning side, Harvard transfer Katie Benzan had a career-high 29 points for Maryland (17-2, 13-1 Big Ten) setting a program record with nine three-balls, eight in a powerful first-half while Ashley Owusu had 24 points and 12 assists. 

Diamond Miller was also in the high scoring act that featured the nation’s top two team offenses as she collected 27 points, setting the tone early with 12 points in the first five minutes.

The Terrapins are averaging 92.4 points a game followed by Iowa at 87.9. Maryland averaged a 35-point differential in their previous five games.

“We were disappointed the first time when we weren’t able to play this game,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. “But a blessing in disguise when you look at how much more improved we are as a team.”

That game originally set for Jan. 21, was called off not because of COVID-19 protocols but by Iowa coach Lisa Bluder ahead of the nearby presidential inauguration of Joseph R. Biden but out of concern of more civil unrest in the area following the Jan. 6 mob attack on the U.S. Capitol.

“Can’t say enough about this game, the top two scoring teams in the country,” she added after the Terrapins won their sixth straight since a narrow setback at nationally-ranked Ohio State, their only setback in Big Ten competition. “The first half was like a game I’ve never seen before. To be able to see how unselfish we were — we were ready to play from the tip. Both teams, to be able to score that many points before halftime, was tremendous.”

Maryland finished the first quarter with a 41-21 advantage, yielding just three points off the differential 30-27 to hit the break ahead 68-51. The Terrapins then took the third 22-19 while the Hawkeyes (12-7, 8-7) grabbed the fourth 23-21.

The 41 points tied a program record for points in a quarter set earlier this season against nationally-ranked Arkansas while the 68 for the half is a Big Ten mark for a member team in conference competition.

“We had transitional issues and open 3s,” Bluder said of the first ten minutes. “They gained a lot of momentum from that. For the last three quarters, we beat them by two points on their home court. We put up 93 points on the road against Maryland. There’s some good takeaways, but yes the first quarter was not good.” 

Though Iowa was unable to get close, newcomer Caitlin Clark, who earlier in the day got her third Tamika Catchings national freshman of the week honor from the United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) continued to torch the nets in her own right.

In any other game Clark might have been a one-team wrecking crew scoring 29 in the first half. That set the all-time Hawkeyes freshman season scoring mark with 504 points, which grew by a few more when she finished with 34 points. That became her fifth-straight 30-point game and ninth on the season, believed to be the most by an NCAA Division I rookie since 2000.

Clark also matched Benzan with nine three-pointers, the most set on a a conference rival by a Hawkeye  in six seasons since Melissa Dixon hung nine on host Northwestern on Jan. 29, 2015.

“Caitlin Clark is the best freshman in the country,” Frese said, though the crowd from No. 1 UConn will argue the equal status of Paige Bueckers, who has claimed four USBWA honors, one shared with Clark, and a dual added Ann Meyers Drysdale national player honor a week ago.

“If you can go against a top 10 program like us — and we did everything to stop her — and to get 34 points says it all. She was a difficult matchup for us.” 

Additionally, Iowa’s Monika Czinano scored 17 and McKenna Warnock scored 16.

Nine Iowa games have reached the 90s while Maryland has had three get into triple digits.

“Scoring 100 is just a testament to playing with five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11 great players,” Benzan said. “We are all threats on the court so it is going to be tough to defend us.”

The Terrapins are 105-13 (.890) over the last seven season since joining the Big Ten and leaving the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Maryland next travels to Purdue Thursday in West Lafayette, Ind., at 6 p.m. on the Big Ten Plus network while Iowa hosts No. 12 Michigan at Carver-Hawkweye Arena in Iowa City the same day at 4:30 p.m. on the Big Ten Network.

Mississippi State Snaps Skid: A losing streak of five games that also included several postponed games among them due to weather and COVID-19 protocols dating to mid-January — a span that saw ejection from the Associated Press women’s poll for the first time since 2014 — finally came to an end with an 81-68 victory over Auburn in a Southeastern Conference game in the Bulldogs’ Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville.

Rickea Jackson scored 20 points, shooting 9-of-16 from the field, with nine rebounds, while Jessika Carter had 17 points and eight rebounds, and reserve Aliyah Matharu scored 15 for the Bulldogs (9-7, 4-6 SEC), who got 23 second-chance points from 15 offensive rebounds. Myah Taylor scored 12, dealt five assists, grabbed five boards, and swiped three steals.

Auburn (5-16, 0-13), still looking for its first conference win this season, got 24 points from Honesty Scott-Grayson and a double double of 22 points and 14 rebounds from Unique Thompson.

“It feels good,” said first-year coach Nikki McCray-Penson, a former Tennessee star who previously turned around Old Dominion and had been aide to Dawn Staley at South Carolina from the outset of her hire from Temple until the Gamecocks won the 2017 NCAA title. “A win always feels good. Again, for me, it’s about building. What are we getting better at? We have just been slowly, but surely putting little pieces together.

“We haven’t put 40 minutes together yet so hopefully we will do that. It feels good.”

McCray-Penson was hired when Vic Schaefer was lured in the offseason to return to his native state and rebuild Texas.

Mississippi State next travels to LSU on Thursday at 7 p.m. and then finishes at home hosting Missouri ahead of the SEC tournament the following weekend.

WNIT News: Following the Guru news here in the previous posting, the WNIT, in its special format for this season, on Thursday will announce the four neutral sites for the eight-team regionals. Those winners will then advance to a common site for the final four.

“We’re just finalizing things now,” an official said without stating what sites are being negotiated.

Teams in each region will be guaranteed at least two games off a consolation bracket for first round losers.

Also, unbeaten Cal-Baptist (20-0), which clinched the regular season Western Athletic Conference title but is still in transition to Division I, and thus not NCAA tournament-eligible, will likely be taken by the WNIT group. The WAC bunch is allowing Cal Baptist to compete in the conference tourney.

They have won 23 games across two seasons, ahead of the 22-game inactive Princeton streak that suspended when the Ivy League shut down winter competition for its eight members, including Penn.

Florida Gulf Coast has won 17 straight as has Bucknell (8-0), which was only playing a Patriot League-mandated conference only slate but has since been in a long pause due to the coronavirus situation. 

The WNIT official said some conferences would get an automatic qualifier with the rest selected ast-large. 

There is precedence for taking a non-fully Division I team, as in the past, Florida Gulf Coast and South Dakota State were WNIT selectees while still in the Division I transition phase.

Looking Ahead: After two days of quiet news, though Villanova’s Maddy Siegriest is sharing the USBWA national player of the week with FGCU’s Kiersten Bell, here’s the Wednesday slate of local teams in action in chronological tipoff order and then the highlighted national games.

1 p.m.: Villanova at Providence in Big East.
3 p.m.: No. 25 Rutgers at Michigan State in Big Ten as Scarlet Knights go for sixth straight.
3:30 p.m.: Temple hosts No. 13 South Florida in American Athletic Conference at McGonigle Hall.
5 p.m.: Penn State hosts No. 15 Ohio State in Big Ten in Bryce Jordan Center in State College.


5 p.m.: No, 24 DePaul hosts Marquette in Big East for second in Chicago.
7:30 p.m.: No. 18 West Virginia at Iowa State in Big 12 in Ames.
8 p.m.: No. 7 Baylor hosts Oklahoma State in Big 12 in Waco, Texas.
8 p.m.: Texas at Kansas in Big 12.

And that’s the report. 



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