Film Breakdown: Northwestern vs. Maryland, the battle of champions

By Ally Navarrete

Heading into the 2020-21 basketball season, the ‘Cats are looking to defend their Big Ten title — but so is the team they shared it with: Maryland. 

Last year, the teams played each other twice during the regular season. In their first match-up, the ‘Cats defeated the Terps for the first time in program history, with a huge 81–58 win at home on New Year’s Eve. But the Terps came back with a vengeance at College Park a month later, winning 70–61.

To see what a Northwestern vs. Maryland game may look like this year, I looked at some of the highlights from 2019-20 match-ups.

Dec. 31, 2019: The ‘Cats take down Maryland

Pulliam for three

Lindsey Pulliam connects on a 3-pointer from the left corner against Maryland last December. (Credit: Big Ten Network)

Early in the first quarter of this game, Lindsey Pulliam hit a three from the corner. Veronica Burton brought the ball up the court to find Pulliam open as the Terps’ defense scrambled in the paint. If the Burton-Pulliam connections can continue to capitalize on weak moments for the Terps’ defense, they’ll be able to rack up points. Pulliam led the team in scoring and finished with 24 points in this game.

Owusu’s fastbreak

Ashley Owusu connects with Blair Watson in the paint to cut into Northwestern’s lead. (Credit: Big Ten Network)

Coming off a rebound, then-first-year Ashley Owusu had a fastbreak down the court to find Blair Watson under the basket. Owusu’s court vision and speed enabled her to find Watson for the shot quickly. Despite the team’s struggles during this 23-point Wildcat victory, the Terps outshined the ‘Cats with fastbreak points like these; they finished the game with 21 points off of fastbreaks compared to the ‘Cats’ 11. Now a sophomore, Owusu will be back again to pose a significant threat to the ‘Cats’ defense.

Burton’s drive

Veronica Burton drives inside for an easy layup. (Credit: Big Ten Network)

Veronica Burton had a nice cross-over to find her way around the Maryland defender, and she drove through the Terps defense for a nice lay-up in the final minutes of the second quarter. Burton’s ball-handling and drives were present throughout this game, and she finished with 23 points, just behind Pulliam. If Burton can bring similar tenacity this season, the Terps’ defense will have to make a plan to contain her from driving to the basket.

Scheid’s threes

Abi Scheid knocks down a 3-point shot from the top of the key. Scheid was among the best shooters in the nation last year, making over 47% of her attempts from deep. (Credit: Big Ten Network)

A substantial loss this season for the ‘Cats will be the now graduated Abi Scheid. In the third quarter, Pulliam found Scheid wide open at the top of the arc. Moments like these were a huge boost for the ‘Cats offense: feeding the ball to your best 3-point shooter when she’s wide open is the perfect play. Without Scheid this year, the ‘Cats will need to fill this 3-point shooting position. Pulliam can sink threes, but Jordan Hamilton will also need to step in to shoot the ball from beyond the arc.

Jan. 26, 2020: The Terps fight back

The Terps’ four-player sequence

Maryland’s steal and ensuing passes are too much for Northwestern to handle early in the second game between the teams last season. (Credit: Big Ten Network)

In the final five minutes of the first quarter, Owusu captured the rebound on defense to feed the ball to Taylor Mikesell. From half-court, Mikesell hurled the ball over four ‘Cats to find Blair Watson in the paint, who quickly gave Kalia Charles the ball for the lay-up. The speed of this sequence was too much for Northwestern’s defense to handle. Watson and Charles have graduated, and Mikesell has transferred to Oregon. But it was Owusu’s court vision that enabled this sequence, something the ‘Cats’ will need to develop a plan to defend. Additionally, the Terps have picked up the espnW No. 2 recruit Angel Reese. Reese should step in to fill the holes left by the seniors right away.

Sydney Wood

Sydney Wood channels Veronica Burton and finds 2 points on a drive inside. (Credit: Big Ten Network)

Trapped by two Maryland defenders, Burton fed the ball to Sydney Wood. Wood took the ball from half-court to the basket. She lost control of the ball for just a moment before regaining her composure and putting up a shot for two. With the loss of Scheid and Wolf, Wood will need to up her offensive game this season. But if she can drive like this, the ‘Cats are looking to be in pretty good shape against the Terps.

Owusu’s second chance

Ashley Owusu fights through a crowd of Northwestern players to collect her own rebound and put in a second shot. (Credit: Big Ten Network)

With only about four minutes left in the game, Owusu’s tenacity remained unwavering. After a drive in from the top of the key, she put up a floater that bounced back. Wolf got a hand on it, but Owusu grabbed the ball for the rebound and fought her way around four ‘Cats to put the shot back up for two. Once again, Owusu’s fighting energy propelled her to early success as a first-year for the Terps. Though Wolf missed the rebound here, she was a consistent defender in the paint. Courtney Shaw will need to step into Wolf’s role to defend Owusu in the paint. Shaw has to be aggressive and consistent in her rebounding to match Owusu.

Looking to 2020-21

Both of these teams have lost significant players. The ‘Cats have graduated Scheid and Wolf, and the Terps graduated three starters with Watson, Charles and Stephanie Jones, along with the loss of Mikesell to Oregon. But, both teams also have young stars that can rise to the challenge.

For the ‘Cats, Burton and Pulliam can continue to lead scoring efforts against the Terps, but other players like Hamilton will need to step up to fill the gaps without Scheid and Wolf. Owusu should remain a strong presence for the Terps, and though they’ve lost key players, the program’s best recruit in history, Angel Reese, will be a huge boost for the team. Any matchup between these two teams will be a tight contest that should be exciting to watch.