HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. (AP) — Maryland coach Brenda Frese likes to talk about her bench’s depth and flexibility.
On Saturday night she really needed those nonstarters to step up.
When starter Lexie Brown drew two first half fouls and Laurin Mincy carried four in the second half, Terrapin reserves provided collective relief with 24 points in a 74-63 Big Ten tournament semifinal victory over No. 24 Northwestern.
“It was huge, it was the difference in the game,” Frese said. “We’ve always talk about being ready when your number’s called. . I’m really proud of them understanding that our depth can make a difference.”
Brown and Mincy still played 29 and 31 minutes, respectively, and had productive nights to help send the No. 4 Terrapins to the Big Ten tournament championship game in their first season in the league.
Brown scored 17 points while Mincy and reserve Brene Moseley added 15 apiece as top-seed Maryland (29-2) face third-seeded Ohio State in Sunday’s title game.
Nia Coffey had 23 points before fouling out while Alex Cohen added 12 for the No. 24 Wildcats (23-8).
Coffey had 14 points as fourth-seeded Northwestern opened an early 23-12 lead while Maryland managed just 5-for-18 (25 percent from the field) in the same span.
“We came out ready to play, played as good as 15, 16-minute stretch as I thought maybe we played all year,” said Northwestern coach Joe McKeown. “(Maryland is) a terrific team, they can play inside out. And we just, we just couldn’t get the lead back in the second half.”
The Wildcats had two more 11-point leads until the Terrapins pushed back over the final nine minutes of the half.
“Northwestern came out with the first punch, they were really aggressive and got us on the back of our heels,” Frese said. “In the first 10 minutes they really sped us up and we needed to slow ourselves down and get our poise and composure.”
Maryland scored 11 unanswered points in a span of 2:12 for a 34-29 lead with 38 seconds left while Kiara Leslie’s buzzer-beating putback opened a 36-31 halftime lead.
“When (reserves) go in I’m never worried because I know how hard they work in practice every day,” Brown said. “We didn’t come out today the way we should have and they were ready and it showed. We got the lead back.”
Mincy and Brown hit two 3 pointers 45 seconds apart as Maryland pushed the lead to double digits. Mincy hit another with 13:38 left as the Terrapin claimed a 53-35 advantage.
Maryland then missed 17 of its next 18 shots while Northwestern launched a 15-5 surge that cut the deficit to 58-50 with 3:03 to play.
Northwestern never got closer than eight points the rest of the way.
Despite the loss, Northwestern hopes a 23-win season will get it into the NCAA tournament of the first time.
Maryland: Brown is among 10 finalists for the Naismith Women’s College Player of the Year. She’s hit double figures in 23 of 30 games and earned all-Big Ten first team and top defensive team honors.
Northwestern: The Wildcats haven’t had 20-plus wins since 1995-96 and no national ranking since that season until now. Northwestern’s highest spot came at No. 6 on Dec. 10, 1990. The Wildcats have appeared in the final poll twice.
THE LAST TIME
Saturday’s game was the second in a week between Maryland and Northwestern. Last Sunday, the Terrapins pulled away in the second half for a 69-48 victory over the Wildcats in the first all-time meeting between the teams.
Maryland entered the tournament tied with Ohio State as the Big Ten’s top scoring teams (80.5 points per game). The Terrapins were second behind Rutgers in defensive scoring average with a 60.4 point per game average.
Maryland: Plays for the Big Ten tournament title in its first year in the league, facing Ohio State on Sunday.
Northwestern: Eliminated from Big Ten tournament and awaits post-season invitation.