January 28, 2024 

Big Ten notebook: Lady Lions finding their stride, Michigan State takes down Michigan

Penn State's offense on fire

After a 1-3 start to Big Ten play, Penn State’s won five in a row, as the Lady Lions creep closer to an NCAA Tournament appearance. Meanwhile, Robyn Fralick became the first Michigan State coach to beat Michigan in their first battle with their in-state rival, Wisconsin and Illinois each upset Minnesota and more.

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Here’s your week 12 roundup of Big Ten action:

What everybody’s talking about: Lady Lions cross the 100-point mark against Maryland

Things started unevenly for Penn State (15-5, 6-3 Big Ten) during conference play. The Lady Lions lost in overtime to Ohio State (17-3, 8-1 Big Ten), then at home to Michigan State (15-5, 5-4 Big Ten) and on the road at Indiana (17-2, 8-1 Big Ten). But since that loss to the Hoosiers, Penn State has five wins in a row, the latest on Sunday in a 112-76 beat down of Maryland (12-8, 4-5 Big Ten).

Over the hot streak, the Lady Lions have averaged 88.8 points per game, but no offensive performances were more impressive than Sunday’s. Penn State had four players in double figures, shot 16-of-26 (61.5%) from 3-point range and put together the highest Her Hoop Stats offensive rating in a game this year between Power Five teams.

Ashley Owusu’s return continues to key this hot stretch, which uncoincidentally began when she played her first game of the season against Rutgers on Jan. 14.

So far, the former Ann Meyers Drysdale Award winner has averaged 18.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.4 assists.

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This caught my attention: Spartans over .500 in Big Ten after win over Michigan

After walloping Purdue 97-70 on Wednesday, the Spartans won their second consecutive game on Saturday, 82-61 over Michigan (14-7, 5-4 Big Ten).

As has been common throughout the season, Michigan State received contributions up and down the lineup, including four of its five starters scoring in double figures. Junior guard DeeDee Hagemann led the way with 20 points, graduate guard Julia Ayrault added 19, junior guard/forward Jocelyn Tate scored 14 and graduate guard Moira Joiner had 12.

The Spartans have six players on their roster averaging at least nine points per game this season, as they push toward the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2021.

On the other side, the 21 points the Wolverines received from junior guard Laila Phelia wasn’t enough to propel Michigan to a second-straight win after taking down Maryland in overtime on Wednesday. Since starting conference play with impressive wins over Illinois and Ohio State, the Wolverines are just 3-4.

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Other notable headlines

Iowa exceeds 90-point threshold for the third game in a row

It’s easy to become numb to just how good the Hawkeyes’ offense is. So far this year, the team is scoring more points per game (91) than it did through 21 games last year (87.3), despite losing two of its five starters.

On Saturday, Iowa (19-2, 8-1 Big Ten) scored 92 points against a Nebraska (13-7, 5-4 Big Ten) team that had only allowed more than 80 points twice this season. In the win, senior guard Caitlin Clark had 38 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, her 10th double-double of the year. Graduate guard Kate Martin added 16, while Jaz Shelley, Nebraska’s second-leading scorer, suffered a foot injury in the fourth quarter and left the game after scoring 19 points. 

Minnesota comes back down to Earth

Minnesota (14-6, 4-5 Big Ten) hadn’t had any truly “bad” losses this season until Tuesday, when their trip to Madison ended with a 59-56 loss. The Gophers failed to contain Wisconsin (10-9, 3-6 Big Ten) sophomore forward Serah Williams who scored 24 points and secured 15 rebounds for her fifth double-double in a row and ninth overall this season.

The Gophers struggled mightily on offense, shooting just 33.8% from the field and 23.8% from beyond the arc. Sophomore guard Mara Braun had just nine points on 3-of-13 shooting.

Then on Sunday, Minnesota carried a 54-50 lead into the fourth quarter against Illinois (9-10, 3-6 Big Ten) but was outscored 23-14 over the final 10 minutes in a 73-68 loss. Braun and sophomore guard Amaya Battle each scored 18 points.

For a team that entered the season with few expectations, it’s hard to view these two losses as being anything more than a young team facing an inevitable setback. Minnesota still is on track to play in the postseason, but this week should serve as a reminder that there could be bumps in the road moving forward.

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Maryland at a crossroads

Last year, Terps head coach Brenda Frese highlighted how her team peaked at the right time, catapulting them to an Elite Eight run. This year’s Maryland team hasn’t reached the “right time” to peak just yet, but it’s fair to question at this point what peaking for this team even looks like.

After their 36-point loss to Penn State on Sunday, the Terps have lost four of their last six games. A loss to ranked Ohio State is one thing, but losses to Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State make it increasingly difficult for Maryland to carve out a path to the NCAA Tournament. 

The Terps currently sit tied for eighth in the Big Ten standings, and with games coming up this week against Indiana and Iowa, Maryland could be looking at a four-game losing streak and its worst season under Frese in 14 years. 

Notable games coming up this week:

  • Wednesday: Indiana plays Maryland at 7 p.m. ET
  • Wednesday: Penn State plays Minnesota at 8 p.m. ET
  • Saturday: Michigan plays Penn State at 6 p.m. ET
  • Saturday: Iowa plays Maryland at 8 p.m. ET
  • Sunday: Indiana plays Ohio State at 12 p.m. ET

Written by Eric Rynston-Lobel

Eric Rynston-Lobel has been a contributor to The Next since August 2022. He covered Northwestern women's basketball extensively in his four years as a student there for WNUR and now works as a sports reporter for the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire.

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