No. 2-seed Maryland women’s basketball’s season came to a heartbreaking close Monday night, as it fell in the Elite Eight to No. 1-seed South Carolina, 86-75. The undefeated Gamecocks advanced to their third straight Final Four.
The Terps came out flying, but limited depth proved costly as the game went on against the defending national champions.
Maryland finished its unlikely season at 28-7.
Here are some takeaways from the loss.
Foul trouble changed the complexity of the game.
Maryland led 21-15 at the end of the first quarter. It was finding ways to get South Carolina out of rhythm by playing aggressive defense and spacing the floor on offense. But then the fouls ticked up. Shyanne Sellers was hit with her second foul, then Diamond Miller and then Faith Masonius. That was all in the opening 15 minutes.
“Every time they hit us nothing was called,” Miller said.
The trio played just six minutes in the second quarter, and the Gamecocks took full advantage. With head coach Brenda Frese forced to roll with a backcourt of graduate senior Elisa Pinzan and freshman Gia Cooke for a majority of the frame, Carolina’s top two scorers, senior forward Aliyah Boston and senior guard Zia Cooke, took over.
“Yeah, you felt like you were coaching with one arm behind your back,” Frese said.
The aforementioned duo scored 15 of the Gamecocks’ 23 second-quarter points, helping the No. 1 seed to a 38-30 lead at the break.
Maryland had five players with two fouls at the break, with senior guards Abby Meyers and Brinae Alexander also joining in.
“I thought the game was lost in the second quarter,” Frese said. “The foul trouble, the amount of times throughout the game that they were in the bonus really impacted our play.”
The Gamecocks were able to execute their game plan to perfection with Maryland’s starters on the bench. 6-foot-7 junior Kamilla Cardoso and 6-foot-5 senior Boston took it to the Terps in the second half, combining for 18 points and four offensive rebounds.
When asked about the trouble that South Carolina’s physicality gave Maryland, Meyers pointed to the 26-12 advantage the Gamecocks held in fouls called. “We were the more physical team apparently,” she said.
Meyers, who carried the offensive load for the Terps in the first half, scoring 14 of their 30 points, fouled out on consecutive calls in the third quarter. A blocking call ended the senior’s collegiate career.
South Carolina’s wore Maryland out as the game went on.
South Carolina has won 42 games in a row for a reason. After the second quarter, Frese said, “they come in waves,” referring to the Gamecocks’ uncanny depth. While Maryland had to uncomfortably extend its bench early, South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley was eager to do so.
“Obviously Maryland came out and played extremely fast, just moving the ball up and down the floor,” Staley said. “They were extremely physical, and I thought it just took us a while to get our footing, to really make adjustments to how they were playing us.”
A majority of South Carolina’s opponents this season have crammed the paint in an effort to limit its post players touches. Frese, instead, had her team attack with a three-quarter-court press. It worked for the first 10 minutes, but as Maryland got into foul trouble, it became fatigued, and the Gamecocks exploited that.
South Carolina’s incredible depth was just too much to handle.
“You can see their size, their length and their depth wears you out as the game continues on,” Frese added.
The Gamecocks secured 25 offensive rebounds, scoring 23 second-chance points.
“We had [Cardoso] in and we threw lobs over the top and she was able to rebound, give us second chances at other possessions, so we did that,” Boston said.
The Terps were able to keep the deficit at and around 10 points for the majority of the third quarter, but South Carolina answered nearly every Maryland bucket with an easy score of its own.
86 points was Carolina’s highest total in six games.
“I’m going to tip my hat to them,” Miller said. “I usually don’t do that, but they’re big, and I think what was our downfall was just how big they were in the post.”
An incredible run came to a predictable close.
Maryland entered the 2022-23 season with question marks all around it. Losing 85% of its scoring from last season and Frese having to retool a roster with an unprecedented nine new players, there was serious doubt about where this team would end up.
Nine ranked victories later — with five of those coming against top-10 opponents — Maryland had one of its best seasons in a decade.
“Nobody expected this team to be anywhere near an Elite Eight,” Frese said. “Some questioned whether they were even going to make the tournament. They did that with their body of work, with a really competitive nonconference schedule, as well as our conference schedule. And then to finish it all with an Elite Eight, they put their own stamp and their own mark on this season.”
Maryland opened the season at No. 17 in the preseason AP poll. Additionally, it was picked to finish fourth in the Big Ten by the conference’s head coaches and media. The Terps finished the season ranked No. 7 in the AP poll and third in the conference.
Their final record is 28-7, with four of those losses coming to South Carolina and Big Ten champions Iowa. South Carolina and Iowa will face each other in the Final Four on Friday.
Meyers, who was instrumental in the teams’ success this year, finishing second on the team in scoring, reflected on what it meant to make her first Elite Eight.
“Yeah, I’m probably not going to be able to sleep for a few nights following this game. I’m just so grateful to have had this opportunity to come to an amazing school and make a deep run into the postseason and go to an Elite Eight,” she said.
She was one of five transfers this season.
“It’s something I’ll always cherish and never take for granted. This team I played with this past season has been such a special, amazing team. So much talent with an incredible coaching staff and support staff. It’s really a family and a community,” she added.
Frese called this offseason the most daunting of her career, but also called this year’s run “special” and one that she’ll remember for a while.
“Just really incredibly proud, and I think it shows a group of women in the locker room what can be accomplished when you’re unselfish and you put your head down and you go to work,” she said. “It was such a satisfying season, just with so many question marks going into the year. But because these guys believed and stayed the course.”