Maryland Women’s Basketball Preview: Terps Take on Notre Dame For Berth in the Final Four

All-American! Geoff Burke-US PRESSWIRE

Happy Tuesday. Hopefully we'll all by happy and celebrating a trip to the Final Four by 11:00 tonight. Just a programming note - this preview is again going to double as a game thread, so get the conversation rolling here.

After pulling out the win against Texas A&M, in what ended up being a very exciting and stressful game, Maryland now turns their focus to the #1 seed in the Raleigh Region as they take on the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame today, with a trip to the Final Four on the line. The last time the Terps advanced to the Final Four was in 2006, when they eventually went on to beat Duke and capture the National Title.

While Maryland ended up prevailing in the end, Texas A&M seemed as if they’d pull off the upset throughout most of the game, as the 2011 National Champions fought hard and led throughout. Fatigue finally seemed to catch up to A&M as the Aggies failed to score in the last 3:50 of the game, allowing Maryland to go on what ended up being a decisive 8-0 run during that same span. While Maryland had an advantage in almost every statistical over the Aggies, the one area where A&M was seemingly better than Maryland was in the turnover department and they used that to their advantage, especially during the early portion of the game. A&M came out with guns blazing, at one point scoring on seven straight possessions, all while stifling Maryland’s offense. The Aggies at one point held an 18 point lead in the first half and seemed as if they were going to run Maryland right out of the gym.

But the Terps, as they’ve done all season, didn’t panic nor did they back down.

They seemed to know that Texas A&M was shooting and scoring at a rate they wouldn’t be able to maintain. ACC Player of the Year and 1st team All-American Alyssa Thomas seemed to put her teammates on her back and carry them through the rough start, scoring 13 of Maryland’s points in the first half, including the first five for Maryland. The Terps finally settled down and began to effectively execute their offense as the half wore on, slowly cutting into the Aggies’ lead. As the first half wore on, A&M began to struggle with their shooting and Maryland took advantage. The Terps went on a 16-4 run to close out the half, with Brene Moseley almost making a half court shot as time expired that would have tied the game. Instead, Maryland found themselves down just three entering halftime.

The second half again saw Texas A&M able to build a double-digit lead on Maryland and for a few moments, you had to wonder if Maryland used up all of their energy fighting to get back into the game in the first half. But again, Maryland seemed followed the guidance of the school’s Victory song that at one point states " …Keep on fighting, don’t give in!" That's exactly what Maryland did, clawing and battling until they finally captured the lead for the first time since the 19:38 mark of the 1st have, when they led 2-0.

In the end, as they’ve done multiple times this season, Maryland was able to over come adversity and prevail. They now have the daunting task of taking on the region’s #1 seed in Notre Dame, who cruised past #5 seed St. Bonaventure on Sunday, 79-35. The biggest impact from that game is that no one on Notre Dame's roster played more than 25 minutes in that game, so they'll likely have a little more energy tonight over Maryland, who's starters had to battle up until the end.

Maryland will have to focus on stopping 1st team All-American and South Bend native Skylar Diggins, who averages over 16 points per game while dishing out just under six assists per contest. What stands out most about Notre Dame is their size, or lack there of. The tallest player for the Irish is 6'3" forward Natalie Achonwa. Across the board, Maryland seems to have a size advantage over Notre Dame. Lets take a look at some of the statistics for each team:

NCAA® Women's Basketball - Division I - Rebound Margin - Through Games 03/26/2012

Rank Name GM W-L REB RPG OPP REB OPP RPG Margin
1 Liberty 33 24-9 1562 47.3 1046 31.7 15.6
2 Maryland 35 31-4 1604 45.8 1121 32.0 13.8
3 California 35 25-10 1592 45.5 1151 32.9 12.6
4 Princeton 29 24-5 1274 43.9 930 32.1 11.9
5 Baylor 38 38-0 1722 45.3 1298 34.2 11.2
6 Connecticut 36 32-4 1501 41.7 1122 31.2 10.5
7 Delaware 33 31-2 1404 42.5 1057 32.0 10.5
8 Stanford 36 35-1 1581 43.9 1220 33.9 10.0
9 UTEP 33 29-4 1457 44.2 1145 34.7 9.5
10 Notre Dame 36 33-3 1473 40.9 1142 31.7 9.2

(courtesy of NCAA.org)

You'll notice Notre Dame climbed up into the top 10 in this category after their lopsided win on Sunday. They were previously 11th. While both teams are in the Top 10 in this category, it's important to note that Maryland still has a +4.6 rebounding edge per game on the Irish. Couple that with Maryland's size advantage and it could have a significant impact on tonight's game.

NCAA® Women's Basketball - Division I - Scoring Offense - Through Games 03/26/2012

Rank Name GM W-L PTS PPG
1 UT Martin 32 23-9 2563 80.1
2 Notre Dame 36 33-3 2852 79.2
3 Baylor 38 38-0 2997 78.9
4 Maryland 35 31-4 2732 78.1
5 Stanford 36 35-1 2764 76.8
6 Connecticut 36 32-4 2748 76.3
7 Miami (FL) 32 26-6 2430 75.9
8 Penn St. 33 26-7 2498 75.7
9 Duke 33 27-6 2480 75.2
10 Gonzaga 34 28-6 2555 75.1

When looking at scoring offense, while Notre Dame holds a flight advantage over Maryland in the rankings (#2 vs. #4), that difference is only 1.1 points per game, which isn't really significant. The biggest significance, as was mentioned earlier, is that Notre Dame will probably have less of a fatigue factor as the game wears on, so Maryland really can't afford to let the Irish jump out to an early lead because it will be much harder to fight their way back with a team that isn't as tired and who has the ability to score on the same level as them.

Maryland was shown that they're able to bounce back from early deficits, but they can't allow Notre Dame to get ahead like Texas A&M did on Sunday. They need to take care of the basketball and play their game, using their size to their advantage. Notre Dame will certainly try to slow Maryland down with their pressure defense. If Maryland can't handle it, they're in for a long night at the PNC center. But if they can overcome that, I think they'll pull out the victory. Notre Dame is a great team and this is going to be a battle. I think whichever team is able to get past the strength of the other (the pressure D of Notre Dame vs. the rebounding of Maryland) will win this game.

I'll go the homer route and say this will be another close one, but Maryland wins it by 5-6 points. Alyssa Thomas continues to show why she's an All-American, Hawkins steps up, Kizer uses her size advantage and senior leadership to key a 2nd half run, and Kim Rodgers plays a bigger scoring role this game. Oh, and if you remember, I predicted a 6 point victory over Texas A&M. I was off by two, so as long as I'm within two again, we should be good to go for a trip to Denver and the Final Four.

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