GREENVILLE, S.C. — No. 2 Maryland went into the locker room at halftime down by one to No. 3 Notre Dame. The Terrapins’ typically potent offense had looked uncharacteristically sloppy. They’d gone scoreless for several minutes at a time. Two of their best players, Diamond Miller and Shyanne Sellers, had been shut down almost entirely, with four and two points, respectively.
At halftime, they decided that would change.
In the second half, Maryland took over. Miller and Sellers came alive. The Terps stopped making their own costly turnovers and instead started forcing them from the Irish. They started pressing more. And an explosive third quarter, followed by shutdown defense in the fourth, turned this one into a blowout.
Maryland walked away with the win, 76–59, to advance to the Elite Eight.
“We started out very slow,” Miller said. “The first half, they slowed us down. They did a great job by doing that… But in the second half, when we started running and just sprinting the floor, I think that really helped us and got us going into a pace that we like.”
It paid off. Even after their lackluster first half, Miller and Sellers both finished with 18 points and five rebounds. (Sellers added eight assists.) The pair’s second-half performance “set that tone for us, for our team to follow,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. The rest of the squad followed suit with its fast pace and aggressive playmaking.
For much of the second half, Notre Dame simply looked like it had no chance of closing the gap.
“Shy had this look in her eye,” Maryland freshman Bri McDaniel said of her teammate. “I knew she was going to just go crazy and shoot it [in the second half]. And she did, and Diamond, too.”
These two teams met once before in December. That contest was far closer than this one—Maryland won, 74–72, with Miller exploding for 31 points in one of her highest-scoring games of the year. In some ways, however, that was a different Notre Dame.
The Irish were forced to make its tournament run without two of their starting guards. Graduate student Dara Mabrey tore her ACL at the end of January; sophomore Olivia Miles went down with a knee injury in late February and learned a few weeks later that she would not be able to return. To play without two starters is hard. To play without two starting guards is harder still: It’s a tremendous amount of floor leadership to suddenly go without. And to play without these two starting guards should be particularly nightmarish—Miles with her remarkable passing talent and Mabrey with her veteran experience. Without them, Notre Dame has turned to makeshift solutions, frequently starting freshman KK Bransford and relying heavily on early enrollee Cassandre Prosper, who got to campus only in January.
Yet the Irish found a way to make it work for most of their run. “It’s required everyone to step up,” Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey said earlier in the tournament. “It’s kind of become our identity, our resilience and toughness.” In Miles’s and Mabrey’s absences, the team has seen a balanced scoring approach with more engagement from everyone on the floor. That was the case early Saturday. The Irish’s first five buckets came from five different players—one from each starter. Their defense was giving Maryland fits. They were forcing mistakes and making sure to capitalize on them. After a 13–0 run in the second quarter, they looked as sharp as they have all year, firmly in control.
But the second half was a different ballgame. Now, Maryland set the pace, and Notre Dame couldn’t keep up.
“We really struggled with pressure, turned the ball over more than we would like, couldn't really get into our flow in that third quarter,” Ivey said. “So just really disheartening.”
The result is Maryland’s first trip to the Elite Eight since 2015—a feat in a season that originally looked as if it would be more of a transitional year. Much of this team was filled out through the transfer portal, or required to take on larger roles this season, and this kind of tournament run was not expected by many at the beginning of the year. (Miller is the only regular starter from last season who returned.) But the Terps’ second half was a showcase of just how well they’ve come together. And they want to be clear—they believe they can keep going.
“We’re not finished,” Freese said. “We did not come here just to get to an Elite Eight.”