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Charles in charge as No. 10 Maryland uses balance to win

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — After scoring a career-high 36 points in the Big Ten title game last March and tallying 23 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Maryland guard Kaila Charles realized flashy numbers bring no satisfaction in defeat.

This season, Charles is content to be one of several contributors in a balanced attack that has provided the No. 10 Terrapins sole possession of first place in the conference.

One of five Maryland players averaging in double figures, Charles ranks eighth in the Big Ten in scoring with a respectable 15.2 points per game. That doesn’t necessarily diminish her chances of being named Big Ten player of the year.

“Sometimes a lot of people get caught up in stats, where maybe you don’t have the depth and the talent that we have,” coach Brenda Frese said. “The thing with Kaila is, she just wants to win. She is going to do whatever it takes for our team and she’s done that all season.”

Against Iowa on Tuesday night, Charles did just that. With 21 points, nine rebounds, two blocks and a pair of assists, she led the charge in a 93-59 rout that extended Maryland’s winning streak to 10 games and broke a deadlock with the Hawkeyes for the top spot in the Big Ten.

Although four other Terps scored in double figures, the 6-foot Charles made the biggest impression on Frese.

“Kaila Charles showed the All-American that she is and set the tone from the tip,” Frese said. “From the minute she’s gotten here, you look at how she leads us day in and day out. With her numbers in conference play (17.5 points per game), she definitely showed who the best player in the conference is in this game.”

After the Terps lost to Iowa in the 2019 Big Ten championship game and fell to UCLA in the postseason, Charles turned her focus toward putting a happy ending on her final college season.

“My goal is to become a better overall player, reading the game more, finding my teammates more and doing what whatever the team needs me to do,” she said in October.

So far, that’s precisely what has happened. The Terrapins (21-4, 12-2) haven’t lost since Iowa beat them on Jan. 9, and with four games to go they’re closing in on the top seed in the Big Ten Tournament.

The remaining teams on the schedule — Penn State, Wisconsin, Purdue and Minnesota — are in the bottom half of the standings and own a collective 16-40 record in the league play.

Maryland’s impressive performance against Iowa came on the heels of a 79-50 win over Rutgers in which Charles contributed 16 points and eight rebounds while leading a defense that limited the Scarlet Knights to 34 percent shooting.

“Sometimes you run up through a buzzsaw,” Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said.

The Terps sliced up Iowa while rolling to their most lopsided Big Ten victory against a ranked opponent since they entered the league in 2014.

“This is what Maryland basketball looks like: defensive, transition, offense, sharing the basketball,” Frese said. “Now it is just seeing how elite they are and keep building on this.”

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