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Big Ten notebook: Clark sets scoring record — Michigan, Penn State and Maryland look for key wins

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Iowa’s Caitlin Clark wasted no time setting the NCAA Division I women’s basketball all-time scoring record against Michigan on Thursday while the Wolverines, Terps and Lady Lions looked to bolster their NCAA Tournament resumes this week. Here’s your week 15 roundup of Big Ten action:

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What everybody’s talking about: Clark breaks the scoring record

The game wasn’t even three minutes old when Clark pulled up from the logo to bury a 3-pointer and break Kelsey Plum’s NCAA career scoring record. But that wasn’t the only headline from Clark on Thursday; she also scored a career-high 49 points in Iowa’s 106-89 win over Michigan.

She made nine of her 18 3-point attempts and shot 16-for-31 from the field overall, while also tallying 13 assists. 

The senior guard continues to amaze every night, but she’ll face some stiff tests ahead with a road game at No. 14 Indiana on Thursday and what could be her final regular season home game against No. 2 Ohio State on March 3.

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This caught my attention: Maryland picks up a big win over reeling Penn State

When these two teams matched up in late January, the Lady Lions looked to be on cruise control to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in a decade. Penn State beat Maryland 112-76 to improve to 15-5 on the season, while the Terps fell to 12-8 with the loss. Since then, Penn State (16-10; 7-8 Big Ten) beat Minnesota but has subsequently lost five in a row, including 77-62 to the Terps on Sunday.

The struggles coincide with graduate guard Tay Valladay’s ACL and meniscus injuries, sustained against Minnesota on Jan. 31, and Penn State’s running out of time to right the ship. At No. 26 in the NET rankings entering Sunday, their resume is in solid shape, but this losing skid has come at the most inopportune time.

Maryland (15-10; 7-7 Big Ten), meanwhile, has now won three games in a row, and the Terps will have two chances to add marquee wins to their resume when they play at Ohio State on Feb. 25 and at Indiana to close out the regular season on March 3.

How far the Terps go this year will partly depend on graduate forward Jakia Brown-Turner, who’s helped take some of the pressure off junior guard Shyanne Sellers. On Sunday, Brown-Turner scored a career-high 32 points, also grabbing seven rebounds and blocking three shots. She’s now scored in double figures in 10 straight games.

Other notable headlines

Ohio State rolls over Nebraska

While the Big Ten could send as many as seven or eight teams to the NCAA Tournament, a clear three have separated themselves as the clear-cut best: Iowa (23-3; 12-2 Big Ten), Indiana (21-3; 12-2 Big Ten) and Ohio State (13-1; 22-3 Big Ten). 

The Buckeyes validated this on Wednesday when they suffocated fourth-place Nebraska, 80-47. The Huskers (17-9; 9-6 Big Ten) turned the ball over 30 times and only attempted three free throws all game. 

Graduate guard Jacy Sheldon had 23 points, six rebounds and six assists, while sophomore forward Cotie McMahon had 20 points and 10 assists. Ohio State’s now won 12 in a row since its loss to Michigan in late December. 

The recent offensive success (Ohio State’s averaging nearly 81 points per game during the win streak) combined with the Buckeyes’ stifling full-court press defense has once again produced a lethal combination for Kevin McGuff’s team.

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Michigan’s NCAA Tournament resume

After losing to Iowa and Michigan State (18-7; 8-6 Big Ten) this week, the Wolverines now sit at 16-11 overall and 7-8 in the Big Ten. Entering the game with the Spartans on Sunday, Michigan was ranked No. 48 in NET, and the program has some notable wins on its resume: Ohio State (No. 8 in NET), Penn State (26), Maryland (35), Middle Tennessee (37), Illinois (51) and Harvard (86).

But the Wolverines have also been highly inconsistent this season. After beating Illinois by 36 on the road in December, they lost to the Illini by 13 at home in late January; they also lost home games against Minnesota, Nebraska and Michigan State. None of those are horrible losses per se, but it points to the fact that the Wolverines have faced some growing pains after losing three of their starters from last year. 

Michigan has three games remaining in the regular season: at Northwestern, at Ohio State and vs. Purdue. The Northwestern and Purdue games are virtual must-wins. Meanwhile, a win at Ohio State, while a tall task, would likely clinch the Wolverines’ NCAA Tournament berth.

Grace Grocholski’s big week

Since Minnesota’s top scorer Mara Braun was lost for the season after a foot injury suffered against Illinois on Jan. 28, the Golden Gophers (15-10; 5-9 Big Ten) have taken a nosedive. They were 14-5 before the injury and are 1-5 since. 

But this week could’ve marked a turning point for freshman guard Grace Grocholski. She entered Minnesota’s game with Rutgers on Tuesday averaging roughly 10.5 points per game, and she’d scored more than 20 points in a game just once this season, back in November against Norfolk State.

Against Rutgers, she led the Gophers in scoring with 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting, and against Northwestern on Saturday, she led the way with 27 points on 10-of-13 shooting. The Scarlet Knights and Wildcats are two of the worst defensive teams in the conference, but this could be a preview of more things to come for the freshman. 

Braun’s absence has created a major void for Minnesota on offense. If Grocholski can help fill it and turn herself into an elite scorer to play alongside Braun when she returns next season, this Gopher offense could be top-tier for the next couple years.

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Notable games coming up this week:

  • Monday: Indiana plays Illinois at 2 p.m. ET
  • Thursday: Ohio State plays Penn State at 6 p.m. ET
  • Thursday: Iowa plays Indiana at 8 p.m. ET
  • Saturday: Minnesota plays Nebraska at 5 p.m. ET
  • Sunday: Maryland plays Ohio State at 2 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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