Bluder: 'Maryland is the best team' Iowa will play this year
IOWA CITY, Ia. — In a sport unequivocally dominated by one team, it’s fair to measure women's basketball programs by how they fared against that one team. Of the 90 consecutive opponents UConn has dispatched since 2014, only two have played the Huskies to a single-digit game.
No. 7 Florida State lost 78-76 at home to the Huskies in the season opener. And No. 3 Maryland outscored UConn 28-19 in the fourth to lose 87-81 at home in late December.
Iowa hosts the Terrapins at 3 p.m. Saturday. Since nearly knocking off UConn, Maryland has rattled off four straight wins to open Big Ten play, including a 93-49 win at Nebraska and a 96-65 triumph against Northwestern.
"I think Maryland is the best team on our schedule this year," Iowa’s Lisa Bluder said in a teleconference Friday morning. "No disservice to Notre Dame, but I think Maryland is outstanding. I mean, you look at how close they played UConn and how UConn is destroying everybody, and Maryland played them really well."
In case you needed more convincing … the Terps boast the country’s No. 3 scoring offense (90.4 points per game), No. 2 shooting offense (50.9 percent), are second in team rebounding (plus-16.8 margin) and scoring margin (plus-30.3 points), and they have the No. 5 assist-to-turnover ratio (1.41).
The defensive numbers aren’t quite as daunting, but like a clock-hogging football team, Maryland essentially plays defense through its offense. It scores so rapidly and efficiently that teams play catch-up and fall out-of-system as games wear on.
"Can we run on them? I’m not sure, but I don’t think we want to start walking the ball up the floor, because it’s not us," Bluder said. "And I if think we take away something that’s been pretty good for us, I don’t know if it’s going to make much of an impact. So we’ll still try to do what we do.
"It’s crucial to maybe not even have a fast start, but have an even start, because I don’t think you can dig yourself a hole against a great team. You’ve got to be playing with them."
Brionna Jones leads Maryland with 19.2 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. Those numbers shoot up to 24.3 and 12.8 in Big Ten play.
Jones plays a lot like Megan Gustafson. They’re the same size — 6-foot-3 — and both rank in the country’s top 10 in field goal percentage (Jones is third, Gustafson sixth). Both won’t wow you with natural athleticism, but they’ll certainly outsmart and overpower you.
She and fellow senior Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who’s shooting 41.5 percent from 3-point range, were named to the John R. Wooden Award Top 25 this week.
"The thing is she’s not even that tall, but she’s so strong and her footwork is amazing," Bluder said of Jones. "It doesn’t appear like she has a lot of wasted energy in the post. She’s just so effective ... and her teammates have a lot of confidence in her and they look for her."
Maryland also brought in arguably the country’s best freshmen class this year — six total recruits, five in ESPN’s top 100. All get regular minutes and two (Destiny Slocum, No. 7 recruit, and Kaila Charles, No. 22), start.
Slocum, a 5-foot-7 guard, leads the team with 4.7 assists per game and she’s second with 16.6 points. She also shoots nearly 40 percent (31-for-80) from long range. At 6-foot-1, Charles is more of an Ally Disterhoft-type guard/forward combo. She averages 9.1 points and five boards per game.
"Outstanding freshman point guard," Bluder said of Slocum. "(She) is playing extremely well. Shooting the 3-ball, shooting with long range on the 3-ball. But switches the ball, leading her team very well for a freshman."
Those two will play opposite Iowa’s own freshmen guard combo of Kathleen Doyle and Makenzie Meyer, who will both start Saturday, Bluder said. Doyle scored 18 points and Meyer 12, both career highs, in Iowa’s 78-58 win against Illinois on Wednesday.
But because Illinois is, well, Illinois, that win actually dropped Iowa’s RPI three spots to 73. Maryland’s is 25. A win Saturday would launch Iowa's RPI into at least the low 60s and give the Hawkeyes the best win of any potential bubble team this season.
Bain covers Hawkeyes' basketball for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Des Moines Register and HawkCentral. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.
WHO: Iowa (11-6, 2-2 Big Ten) vs. No. 3 Maryland (16-1, 4-0)
WHERE: Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City
TIME/TV: 3 p.m., Big Ten Network
ABOUT THE GAME: Maryland's Brionna Jones sits third in the country with 11 double-doubles. She's also eighth in offensive rebounds per game (five) and total rebounds (178).