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Hoosiers battle Maryland with major Big Ten implications on the line

After rolling its first four Big Ten opponents, the No. 15 Indiana women’s basketball team (14-4, 4-2)  has entered unchartered waters after losing two consecutive games for the first time all season.

Suffering two losses in which they blew double digit leads — a 91-85 double-overtime loss at Iowa and a 71-69 loss at home versus Northwestern — the Hoosiers are in desperate need of a win if they hope to remain contenders for the Big Ten regular season title.

Chanel Wilson guards Northwestern's Veronica Burton in Thursday's loss. (Evan Rabinowitz/HN)

Turnovers and the inability to execute down the stretch have been the two biggest things plaguing Indiana in its most recent losses. The Hoosiers have turned the ball over a combined 34 times in the past two games and will need to value the ball in order to take down a talented Maryland team in College Park on Monday.

Maryland is currently on a two-game win streak after blowing out No. 24 Michigan in Ann Arbor and taking care of business at home versus Nebraska. The Terrapins sit at 4-2 in the Big Ten, which is tied for second in the conference with Indiana.

Similar ball security, bench contributions

Looking closer at this matchup, Indiana and Maryland possess eerily similar rosters that should result in a highly competitive game. Like Indiana’s past two games, this one could come down to who is able to take care of the ball. So far this season, both teams have turned the ball over exactly 258 times.

Both teams also have veteran guards who lead the team in scoring, complemented by young guards. For Maryland, Kaila Charles leads the way with 14.4 points and 7.9 rebounds per game, and freshman Ashley Owusu contributes 11.6 points per game.

The strength of Indiana has been the variety of scoring option it possesses, and Maryland is no different. Six Maryland players average double-digits points, and a deep bench allows for a nine-player rotation which has put no player on the court for more than 30 minutes per game this year.

Indiana head coach Teri Moren has said many times that the foundation of this Indiana team is its defense, and against a versatile Maryland squad, it will take a team effort on the defensive end to take down the Terrapins. 

While Indiana wasn’t able to close out Northwestern on Thursday, a positive takeaway came from its defense versus Northwestern’s leading scorer Lindsey Pulliam, who shot a dreary 5-for-22 from the field. Maryland doesn’t have one scorer it consistently relies on to carry its offense, but a similar approach could be taken by Indiana’s defense in this game.

Against Pulliam, the Hoosiers focused on running her off the 3-point line, only allowing three of her 22 shot attempts to come from beyond the arc. Maryland shoots 36 percent from 3-point land as a team and has two players — Taylor Mikesell and Blair Watson — who shoot 40 percent from three. Look for the Hoosiers to employ a similar defensive style versus Maryland as used against Pulliam.

Finding a rhythm from distance

Maryland has leaned on the strength of 3-point shooting in certain games this year, but the same hasn’t been true about Indiana. A team that shoots just 31 percent from beyond the arc, the Hoosiers need players like Jaelynn Penn and Chanel Wilson to start find their rhythm from three. Penn is shooting 30 percent and Wilson is shooting 28 percent from three, but are players who Indiana consistently relies on to knock down outside shots.

A strong defensive performance was put to waste after a dreadful final five minutes of regulation versus Northwestern, and if Indiana continues to turn the ball over at a high rate, it won’t matter how its defense performs versus Maryland. If Indiana hopes to get back on track with a win at Maryland, it will need its guard trio of Ali Patberg, Jaelynn Penn and Grace Berger to control the pace of the game.

With a win, Indiana is back in the mix for the Big Ten regular season title. After this game, the Hoosiers face three of the bottom four teams in the conference and could be back up at the top of the conference by the start of February.

A loss, however, would put Indiana in a tough position. Northwestern, Rutgers and Iowa all have a one-game lead on Indiana, but are not scheduled going forward. Because of this, Indiana no longer has the luxury of controlling its own destiny, making this matchup with Maryland even more important.

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