Kaila Charles’ last-minute heroics lead Maryland comeback effort over Minnesota
The No. 8 Maryland women's basketball team found itself in a difficult situation in the third quarter. Trailing by 16, the Terrapins’ Big Ten first-place hopes were waning.
Led by junior guard Kaila Charles, Maryland dug deep, scoring nine straight points in the last 50 seconds, staving off a near upset by the Minnesota Gophers.
Freshman Shakira Austin tipped Minnesota’s inbound pass and Charles (game-high 29 points) scored the game-winning layup, pulling the Terps ahead of the Gophers, 71-69.
“They were really playing me to my left hand and I’m right-handed so I just saw a lane and my teammates had been encouraging me all game to stay in the game,” Charles said. “So, when I saw the lane open I just drove, and I was able to finish.”
Thursday night’s win granted the Terrapins (24-4, 13-3) sole possession of first place in the Big Ten ahead of No. 10 Iowa, who had defeated Maryland 86-73 on Sunday. Indiana upset the Hawkeyes 75-73 on Thursday night.
The Gophers (19-8, 8-8) came out aggressively, collecting rebounds and capitalizing on every Maryland mistake. Maryland went into halftime, trailing 45-36.
“I thought we were flat,” Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said. “We were in some foul trouble, [Brianna Fraser] going down, we had some pieces that were really tough and missing some layups again, very uncharacteristic of us.”
The Terps shot 40 percent from the field in the first half, and the losses of Fraser to a sprained ankle and Blair Watson to foul trouble allowed Minnesota guards Kenisha Bell and Destiny Pitts exploit the paint.
“She’s very locked in on players,” Charles said of Bell. “She sticks with her tendencies and I love the fact that she’s a really aggressive player offensively and defensively.”
Maryland slowly cut into the deficit in the second half and Minnesota led by only five points with a little over five minutes remaining in the game. With the Terps tightening on defense and Charles dominating in the paint, Maryland cut the margin to a one-possession game with less than a minute left.
Fraser credited the team’s defensive adjustment in the second half to a triangle-two defensive strategy.
“We were going to have to stop the bleeding,” Fraser said of the switch in strategy. “We had more time to adjust and I think we did much better the second half with that game plan.”
Maryland’s win guarantees them a double bye in the Big Ten Tournament.
“I think every game is important,” Fraser said, “but this game obviously lets us know that we are never out of a game and the confidence that was developed out of this game is important for us moving forward.”
The Terps will go on the road Monday night to face Purdue. Tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m.