Perspective | Even against the best of the best, Maryland can make it look easy


It shouldn’t look this easy. When the No. 6 team in the nation comes to town for an important conference matchup, it should not appear as though it forgot the scouting report somewhere along the way between Iowa City and College Park. The game’s most famous shooter shouldn’t be shut down so effectively that she had to hear chants of “Air ball!” and, later, “Over-rated!” And the drama should center on how each coach handles the rotation in a tightly contested fourth quarter, not which one would be the first to mercifully pull her starters off the floor in the closing minutes.

The Maryland Terrapins, the No. 7 team in women’s hoops, made it seem as though a game against Iowa and star guard Caitlin Clark was just an elevated practice on a Tuesday night. Of course, the Hawkeyes didn’t actually lose the game plan at a rest stop. And Clark, the country’s No. 3 scorer, remains a leading candidate for player of the year honors. She’s still a worthy reason fans hailing from Iowa, Olney and everywhere in between showed up at Xfinity Center to see her in person, despite her muted showing. But as Maryland dismantled Iowa, 96-68, the Terps made it look all too easy.

If you’re counting, that would be six wins over ranked opponents and four victories against top-10 teams. And, no, Maryland students did not rush the court after the final horn, as they did last week when the Terps men toppled No. 3 Purdue. They didn’t need to. No one storms the court following a laugher. Maryland (23-5, 14-3 Big Ten) has built up those expectations, making this conference, one of the most challenging in the country, look like a cakewalk.

“A lot of people have underestimated us as a team this whole year pretty much,” senior guard Brinae Alexander said. “But, yeah, we’re just ready to play these next games” in the conference tournament.

No. 7 Maryland dominates No. 6 Iowa on its way to a raucous 96-68 win

Even with senior Diamond Miller spending most of the first half on the sideline, performing more as a cheerleader than the team’s leading scorer, Maryland still prospered behind a deluge of three-pointers and a stunting defense. Miller played eight minutes in the first half as Clark barely sat but missed 5 of 8 shots. In that void, Alexander did her best Clark impression by hitting six threes.

Over the past month, Alexander, a transfer from Vanderbilt, had been in a bit of a slump. On Tuesday, she splashed threes everywhere she found herself open on the floor — even taking and swishing a transition three, a heat check that even the voices in Coach Brenda Frese’s head couldn’t deny.

“It makes no sense, right?” Frese said of her team’s 7-for-13 shooting from deep in the second quarter. “Two games ago, we were 0 for [17] from the three-point line. There’s always that annoying voice in the back of my head: ‘How long are we going to keep this up for?’ ”

The answer would be all game. Maryland finished 14 for 26 (53.8 percent), led by a two-woman bench mob in Alexander and Lavender Briggs. The duo combined for nine makes from beyond the arc and the Terps’ 43 bench points.

On the defensive end, the Terps often stationed a bigger defender such as Briggs or Shyanne Sellers on Clark, who had the misfortune of launching a three-pointer way short of the rim in the first quarter and then heard about it all night. In the half court, Maryland bottled up Clark in a hybrid of a box-and-one — that’s the way Iowa Coach Lisa Bluder described it. Whatever the defense was, it just worked.

“They denied the heck out of her. They face-guarded her the whole time,” Bluder said, calling it the best her team has been played against all season.

As for the decisive second quarter, when Iowa missed all 10 of its three-point attempts, Bluder handed out credit appropriately.

“We were a little sloppy,” she said, “but I think it was because of Maryland’s great defense.”

With Clark scoring a pedestrian 18 points on 5-for-13 shooting, including 4-for-10 from the three-point arc, Iowa didn’t have a chance.

The arena wasn’t sold out, but this was a rapturous Xfinity Center. You knew the crowd would be aching for a Maryland win because three long lines of fans waited outside the metal detectors beyond Gate A about 90 minutes before tip-off. You knew they would be vocal — and generous — with how they supported the soprano who sang the national anthem but forgot the lyrics. Though O’er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming? turned into an embarrassed hum, the crowd still cheered at the end anyway.

And among the regulars in red and the students hanging in their own section, there were younger faces in the crowd, waiting to be inspired by their heroes in basketball shorts. The Maguire family — Kevin, Jennifer and daughters Emily and Kaitlyn, both in No. 22 black-and-gold jerseys purchased off Amazon — traveled from Olney for the 8 p.m. tip.

“It wouldn’t have mattered if it was midnight. We were coming to this game to see Iowa. Anytime any Iowa sport comes to Maryland, I try to get tickets,” said Kevin, an Iowa grad. “But I just think Caitlin Clark is just a household name now. It gives a spark, and it’s cool to see all the little kids watching her play. She’s an amazing player, and the interest in basketball, that’s what I like to see. The women’s game is more and more popular.”

On this night, the Maguires didn’t see their favorite player have a special night but rather a different kind of magic — the Terps making another Big Ten opponent vanish in midair.

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