COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Midway through the third quarter and holding a 30-point lead, the ninth-ranked Maryland players were still not happy with their performance.
They wanted a better effort on defense and coach Brenda Frese called a timeout to lead a discussion. The moment underscored how the Terrapins are taking ownership of their season.
Katie Benzan scored 22 points, including 6 of 12 from 3-point range, to lead Maryland past Illinois 103-58 on Wednesday.
“Our team, our captains really took ownership,” Frese said. “They weren’t happy with how many points (the Fighting Illini) were scoring. At that point, they had 53 points, and they finished with 58. The ownership is there. We get that we can score the basketball. You see that. There’s an understanding that we have to tighten things up on the defensive end. It’s coming. It’s exciting.”
Chloe Bibby had 20 points and nine rebounds for the Terrapins, who extended their winning streak to four games. Ashley Owusu added 17 points and seven assists, while Diamond Miller had 11 points and seven assists for Maryland (15-2, 11-1 Big Ten).
The Terrapins lead the nation with 91.7 points per game, but their defense was just as impressive, smothering the Fighting Illini (3-14, 1-13). Maryland was also unselfish, finishing with 24 assists on 38 field goals.
“When we get our defense in lockdown, it’s just so much fun to play with,” Bibby said. “Everyone feeds off that energy. If we’re locked in, I don’t think anyone can really beat us.”
Maryland set the early tone by scoring 10 points off seven turnovers in the opening four minutes. Illinois struggled with Maryland’s traps and trailed 29-11 at the end of the first quarter.
A 3-pointer by Benzan gave Maryland a 43-17 lead with 6:06 remaining in the second quarter. The Fighting Illini never pulled within 20 points the rest of the way.
“As a team, we just punched first and dominated,” Benzan said. “As coach (Frese) always says, we took their air right in the first quarter.”
All nine of Maryland’s available players scored, and its bench outscored Illinois 24-19. A pair of free throws by Alaysia Styles gave Maryland a 101-58 lead, the fourth time the Terrapins have scored more than 100 points this season.
Jada Peebles had 18 points over 37 minutes, and freshman Aaliyah Nye added 11 points for Fighting Illini.
Maryland, which also won the rebound battle 53-37, improved to 12-0 against Illinois.
“I just really loved our aggressiveness and our effort,” Frese said. “We just dominated all four quarters to win.”
NCAA TOURNAMENT IMPLICATIONS
Maryland was the No. 7 overall seed on Monday when the NCAA women’s basketball selection committee revealed the top 16 teams to this point. The Terrapins have three wins over seeded teams — No. 14 Arkansas (115-96), No. 19 Indiana (84-80) and No. 23 Michigan State (93-87).
Frese was presented with a game ball before tipoff after becoming the program’s all-time winningest coach in the previous game against Nebraska. With the victory over Illinois, Frese is 501-130 over 19 seasons in College Park, surpassing Chris Weller, who won 499 games from 1975 to 2002.
Illinois: The Fighting Illini have lost eight conference games by 10 or more points and need to find a way to cut into the scoring margin.
Maryland: The Terrapins are in the driver’s seat for a third consecutive Big Ten regular-season title. Maryland has overcome injuries, COVID-19 and the departure of all five starters from last year to stay atop the standings.
Illinois: The Fighting Illini play at Rutgers on Saturday.
Maryland: The Terrapins host Minnesota on Saturday.