When the Terps and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish met on Dec. 1, Maryland women’s basketball senior guard Diamond Miller put on a heroic 31-point performance that included a game-winning, step-back buzzer-beater as the Terps snuck out of South Bend, Indiana, with a 74-72 win.
Miller didn’t score 31 Saturday, but she found her game in the second half, and second-seeded Maryland found a way to blow past third-seeded Notre Dame, 76-59, to advance to its first Elite Eight since 2015.
“It’s just exciting. I mean, obviously it’s fun to be a part of, but just doing it with a great coaching staff and great teammates is always the best part. So I’m just really appreciative,” sophomore guard Shyanne Sellers said after her 18 point performance.
Maryland will play the winner of No. 1-seed South Carolina vs. No. 4-seed UCLA, which tips off later Saturday afternoon. South Carolina is the defending national champion and has yet to lose a game this season (34-0).
The game’s expected storyline showed early, with Maryland’s speed and transition prowess going head-to-head against Notre Dame’s towering size. It took less than 20 seconds for graduate guard Elisa Pinzan to grab a steal and heave a pass toward forward Faith Masonius, who laid in the easy bucket. That was one of eight forced turnovers in the first quarter for the Terps. But the Irish stuck to their identity, forcing the ball inside and slowing down the game as much as possible.
Twelve of Notre Dame’s first 14 points came inside the paint, but Maryland led by two after the opening frame, despite being out-rebounded 12-4.
But a familiar problem hit the Terps soon after. The second quarter has been Maryland’s worst all season long, and Notre Dame went on an 13-0 run in that frame Saturday. Four early turnovers allowed the Irish to drive right down Maryland’s throats and secure easy buckets. Notre Dame sophomore guard Sonia Citron, who had 24 points in the teams’ previous meeting, scored six of the Irish’s 13 points during the run.
“Early, I thought we were really aggressive, being able to force them into some turnovers, and then Notre Dame kind of settled in and had their way with us in that second quarter,“ head coach Brenda Frese said.
And the Terps didn’t get their usual response from Miller, who finished the first half with just four points on one made field goal.
Maryland lost its ability to run in transition, and instead gave up those chances to the Irish, who suddenly led by eight. But a timeout by Frese allowed the Terps to settle down and stretch the floor on offense again. Behind a bolt of defensive energy off the bench from freshman guard Bri McDaniel and a couple of big threes from Miller and Brinae Alexander, Maryland ended the half on a 12-5 run, and down just 32-31.
“We started out very slow,” Miller said. “But after all that we were only down one [at the half] which gave us a lot of confidence that we needed to really execute the game plan in the second half.”
The Terps came out of the break reverting back to their aggressive ways, forcing three turnovers on Notre Dame’s first three possessions. But they failed to capitalize, throwing the ball away twice thereafter.
Sellers found her offensive rhythm in the third quarter after scoring just two points in the first half. She scored seven of Maryland’s first 13 second-half points, and the Terps took a 44-42 lead to the under-five media timeout.
“I think it was just being more aggressive in the second half, trying to get more downhill,” Sellers said.
From then on, it was Miller time. The All-American took over with Notre Dame’s bigs on the bench because of foul trouble. A steal, a block and six points later, Maryland rode the senior’s momentum to a 53-44 lead.
“We kind of went rogue,” Citron said of Notre Dame’s second-half performance.
After combining for just six points in the first half, Miller and Sellers scored 17 of Maryland’s 26 points in the third quarter alone.
But it was defensively where the Terps blew the game open, as they surrendered zero made field goals and just two points in the last five minutes of the third frame. The aforementioned Maryland duo combined for five steals and three blocks in the second half.
Notre Dame turned it over 25 times Saturday, its highest total of the season.
“We talked about making them feel that pressure and with anything ... making them feel uncomfortable,” Sellers added.
Frese’s squad found itself up 12 headed into the fourth quarter, and it didn’t let off the gas, outscoring the Irish 19-14 in the final frame. The lead eventually increased to 71-49 with under four minutes to go, and reality of an eight-year Elite Eight drought coming to an end finally set in.
“We’re making history right now,” Miller added. “It’s amazing, and we’re not done yet.”
Three things to know
1. The Terps are in the Elite Eight for the first time since 2015. In what was projected to be one of Maryland’s worst teams of the past eight years, it advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time in that span. The Terps broke a two-year streak of losing in the Sweet 16 with Saturday’s win.
“This run for sure is going to be one that we don’t want to end,” Frese said. “When you talk about this journey and you take it from a year ago, with all the question marks coming in and losing 85% of your offense to now us sitting in Elite Eight. I was reflecting on it today of what I felt like a year ago to where we are today. This one is going to be one I’ll remember for a really long time.”
2. Notre Dame bullied Maryland inside, but the Terps prevailed behind a dominant second half. Notre Dame’s size gave Maryland all sorts of trouble, but when Maryland established its press and made the Irish uncomfortable early on their possessions, it had tons of success. In the second half, Maryland found its flow in transition, using its speed to cruise past Notre Dame. In the final 20 minutes, Maryland scored 16 points off 15 Irish turnovers and outscored them 45-27.
3. Bri McDaniel gave the Terps a spark when they desperately needed it. Maryland’s veteran leaders could not get it going in the first half. When Notre Dame took an eight-point lead in the second, Frese leaned on her freshman spark plug to get the Terps back into their rhythm. McDaniel did just that, running around and causing chaos for Notre Dame. She played 17 minutes and scored just five points while committing three fouls, but she gave Maryland some much-needed energy to pull off the victory.