About the time freshman Ashley Owusu moved out of Maryland’s starting lineup and started coming off the bench, the Terrapins took off.
In fact, the Terrapins (25-4 overall, 16-2 in the Big Ten) haven’t lost since losing to Iowa Jan. 9, Owusu’s first game in the new role. Owusu and her game that seems more NBA than WNBA have been a key reason.
A consensus top-five recruit nationally, Owusu had started the first 14 games at point guard and was doing just fine, thank you, though she has had the typical freshman ups and downs.
“I’m a very competitive person and that’s what drives me,” said the Woodbridge, Va., native, who has scored in double figures in six of Maryland’s last eight games, usually helping the Terps blast a Big Ten foe.
The Terrapins have won 14 straight games en route to a share of the Big Ten regular-season championship. Seven of those wins have been by 29 or more points and none have been closer than nine points. The Big Ten tournament, which Maryland hasn’t won since 2017, tips off March 4 in Indianapolis. The Terrapins have lost in the title game the last two seasons after winning three trophies in a row from 2015-2017.
As for reasons Maryland has been so dominant of late, there’s a new, suffocating, switching man-to-man defense this year, growing confidence on a young roster and well, an X-factor in Owusu’s impact deployed strategically off the bench.
The 6-foot dynamo comes in and just makes opponents miserable — scoring inside and out, taking the ball coast to coast and finding teammates for easy baskets. Owusu is the third-leading scorer on the nation’s No. 6-ranked team, averaging 11.6 points, shooting 44 percent from the field, chipping in 3.7 rebounds and leading the team with 5.2 assists. She was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year March 2.
“She’s a bucket,” said senior guard Blair Watson, Maryland’s defensive equivalent to what Owusu adds offensively. “You look at her on the court, she’s a bucket. She can handle the rock. She’s knows how to run plays and get us into our offense. That’s really good to have. You want your point guard to score.”
Owusu can certainly do that. She had 22 points and eight assists in a 94-53 win against Michigan State Feb. 3. She had 19 and five in a key win at No. 18 Indiana Feb. 6. Early this season, in her third collegiate game, Owusu had 14 points at James Madison. She capped a comeback from 19 points down with a game-winner as the Terrapins were finding their footing.
“Coach [Brenda Frese] drew up a play for me to get to the basket so I just went and took it,” said Owusu, not really breaking down the play the same way she broke down the JMU defense.
While Owusu lets her game do most of the talking, it spoke volumes that Frese drew up that final play for her.
“She’s just super talented,” the coach explained. “A lot has been placed on Ashley’s shoulders, and you can see that she’s more than capable of handling it with the shot she made [at James Madison] to finish the game for us. I think what’s surprising is she’s further ahead on the defensive end. Obviously, you see how dynamic she is on the offensive end, but she has really done a nice job for our team at the other end, too.”
The simple fact, though, is that sophomore sensation Taylor Mikesell moved over to starting point guard and steadied the Terrapins in January. Turnovers went down, offensive efficiency and confidence went up. With less responsibility, Owusu has flourished. Typically, the Terps speed up when she comes in, with Owusu going downhill to the basket and scoring over smaller defenders or finding Mikesell or all-conference Kaila Charles or the one-two inside punch of 6-foot-5 Shakira Austin or steady Stephanie Jones.
“I’m most comfortable in transition,” Owusu said. “You know, just keeping my head on a swivel and being able to locate my teammates.”
Owusu is LeBron James-like in the open court. She’s too big and too skilled for most defenders. She goes between the legs, behind the back, finishes with one-hand floaters or just powers all the way to the rim. Start her. Bring her in off the bench. It doesn’t matter now. The Terrapins are rolling despite just nine active players, five of whom are freshmen or sophomores.
Owusu and fellow freshman, the cat-quick Diamond Miller, have been thunder and lightning off the bench, but the continued improvement of Austin offensively and Mikesell’s unselfish adjustment to point have also been key.
“I think our seniors continue to set the tone for us, but just the play of both Diamond and Ashley have really kind of helped propel us to take a step forward,” Frese said. “That energy off the bench has been huge for us.”
Perhaps the last time Owusu was consistently coming off the pines was all the way back to her first season as an 8-year old on the Fairfax (Va.) Stars.
“She was about the 11th player,” laughed her father, Emmanuel Owusu. “I told her if you get tired of sitting on the bench, you come ask me and we’ll go to the gym and I promise I’ll make it my business to get you on the court.”
Ashley listened and she started working on her game with her dad. She was starting for the Stars the next year, and by the time she was a junior at Paul VI High School, Owusu was the No. 1 point guard prospect in the nation, according to ESPN.
Dad and mother Betty McCurdy are always courtside for support at Maryland, and well, Dad is doing even more. He cajoled 2020 No. 2 national recruit Angel Reese when he saw her or her family at AAU games to come join his daughter at Maryland. The 6-foot-3 swing player from St. Frances announced this winter that she will do just that.
“My dad loves, loves, loves to talk,” Owusu said. “Him and [Reese’s] mom used to talk almost every day about the program here once I made my decision, and about basketball in general.”
These days, there’s a lot to talk about when it comes to the Terrapins.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics