Sunday’s first semifinal was an all-ACC contest as first-year member Notre Dame faced Maryland, a founding member of the conference in its final season before joining the Big Ten.
When the two teams met in late January in College Park, Notre Dame took a 12-point lead into halftime. Maryland made a furious comeback and even led at the midpoint of the second half. Notre Dame regrouped down the stretch to win their 19th straight game to start the season. They haven’t looked back since.
The Fighting Irish entered Sunday’s Final Four matchup with a 36-0 record, one of two unbeaten teams in the nation. This was their fourth straight trip to the Final Four and after losing in the national championship their first two years and falling to UCONN in their semifinal last season, they were looking for another chance at a title.
Maryland was coming off two great wins last weekend against top-seed Tennessee and last year’s national runner-up, Louisville.
The Terrapins got off to a sluggish start on defense. Laurin Mincy came off the bench and scored seven quick points to help Maryland hang in for a while, but once the shots stopped falling, Notre Dame quickly built up a sizeable lead.
Notre Dame dominated on the glass. They grabbed 19 offensive rebounds in the game. In total, they outrebounded Maryland by a staggering 50-21 margin.
That advantage on the boards made up for Notre Dame’s 16 turnovers as it helped them shoot over 50 percent from the floor as a team.
Kayla McBride did the heavy lifting for the Irish. She scored 28 points, almost twice as many as any other player on either team. Maryland’s Brionna Jones and Notre Dame’s Jewell Loyd scored 16 points each.
Reaching the Final Four is certainly an accomplishment to be proud of for the Terps. It is just the fourth appearance in school history and the first since their national title in 2006.
However, losing 87-61 to a team they lost to by just four points in the early part of their conference schedule will not sit well for Brenda Frese or her team.
Maryland will join the Big Ten Conference next year without forward Alyssa Thomas, who scored 14 points Sunday evening. It is a disappointing end to the senior’s career.
Thomas is the all-time scoring leader in Maryland men’s and women’s basketball history. She passed Juan Dixon’s scoring mark during the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.
Maryland will keep dancing through the women’s NCAA Tournament after sneaking away with a 76-73 win over Louisville in the Elite Eight in front of the Cardinals’ home crowd.
Louisville’s head coach, Jeff Walz, a former assistant to Brenda Frese at Minnesota and then at Maryland, had not faced the Terps since their 2012 meeting in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Maryland won that nail-biter 72-68 on their home floor. Louisville, the NCAA Tournament runner-up in 2013, hoped to return the favor on Tuesday night in front of their fans at the KFC Yum! Center.
Shoni Schimmel, a second team All-American guard this year, lived up to all the hype surrounding her final college game in front of her home fans. She led all players in scoring by a wide margin with 31 points.
Maryland’s senior guard Katie Rutan was instrumental in keeping Maryland in the game during the first half. She averaged only 7 points per game this season but scored 12 points in the game’s first 20 minutes on the strength of 4-6 shooting from three.
Alyssa Thomas and freshman point guard Lexie Brown took over the second half, though, and led the Terps to a lead that wound up being just a little too much for Louisville to overcome.
Schimmel’s scored her 31 points despite weathering a cold spell of more than seven minutes in the second half where she missed five straight shots and turned the ball over twice.
Unfortunately for Louisville, Thomas and Brown took advantage to outscore Louisville 22-9 in the first 12 minutes of the second half after Maryland faced a 4-point deficit at the break.
Not many freshmen are able to maintain their composure for 40 minutes in an NCAA Tournament game, and even fewer could do it while facing their opponents’ home crowd. Lexie Brown did.
Brown had trouble getting open looks at the basket, but she made up for that by getting to the foul line often, knocking down 9 of 10 free throws and scoring 20 points in the game.
Maryland (28-6) will face new ACC member Notre Dame (35-0) in the Final Four on Sunday, April 6 at 6:30 p.m.
Notre Dame edged the Terps at Comcast Center in January in the two teams’ only meeting of the season. Maryland battled back from a 12-point halftime deficit to lose by just four points in that contest.
The Fighting Irish will be without starting forward Natalie Achonwa, who tore her left ACL in Monday night’s win over Baylor.
Achonwa had not been a huge factor for the team during the regular season or in the ACC Tournament, but she scored 20.5 points per game in the first four games of the NCAA Tournament, including 19 points against Baylor before she injured her knee.
In women’s college basketball, there are three tiers. There is a bottom tier, where just about all of the non-ranked teams are lumped. The middle tier features the ranked teams and those that receive votes. And then there is the top tier, UCONN.
The scary thing is that this Huskies squad is missing two of its best players due to injury. By the time they get to their conference schedule, they’ll be unstoppable until at least tournament time.
The Huskies used just seven players on Friday. Brianna Banks added nine points off the bench, seven of which came in the second half after twisting her ankle shortly before halftime.
The Terps kept the game close in the first half, leading a handful of times and trailing just 43-38 at the half.
UCONN struggled to make baskets in the second half, but Maryland committed nine turnovers which helps explain how they only scored 17 points in the half.
Alyssa Thomas shouldered most of the load for Maryland and only Katie Rutan had a better shooting percentage on the team. Malina Howard helped keep the game close in the first half.
Lexie Brown and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough were the only freshmen to get playing time. Brown had a pretty good game, but the spotlight seemed to give SWK some jitters.
Four of UCONN’s starting five scored double figures, but Breanna Stewart led the team in scoring by quite a bit. Stewart just didn’t seem to miss in the first half, where she scored 19 of her 26 points.
The loss stings, but UCONN is, again, in a class all by themselves. When your options on ESPN’s Streak for the Cash are “UCONN wins by 20+” or “Any other result,” you get an idea of just how good the Huskies are. What stings most is how close to that 20-point spread UCONN came.
Maryland did get some good news earlier in the day. Head coach Brenda Frese signed a multi-year contract extension through 2021, with reports saying that she could also earn four additional years that would extend her tenure through 2025. It is a great move by an athletic department that is under a lot of scrutiny. At least they seem to be able to keep their basketball fans happy.
Brenda Frese spoke yesterday about her relationship with Michigan State’s head coach Suzy Merchant, who was the coach at Eastern Michigan when Frese began her head-coaching career with MAC rival Ball State. Frese seemed to be looking forward to entering a rivalry with Michigan State when the University of Maryland moves to the Big Ten.
Tonight’s game looked nothing like what a typical rivalry game should. Michigan State led, 2-0, for less than a minute. Alicia DeVaughn tied it with a layup and Maryland never trailed again.
Alyssa Thomas scored 28 points in the contest and helped Maryland gain the early advantage by converting all of her first five attempts. She even knocked in her two three-point attempts, a rarity for the junior forward.
Tianna Hawkins recorded her 41st double-double, scoring 12 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Her effort helped Thomas lift the Terps to a 74-49 win in the last game she will ever play in Comcast Center as a Terrapin.
Katie Rutan also had a big game, scoring 18 points with three of her baskets coming from long range. She also did a lot of work in the paint, grabbing 8 boards and getting to the charity stripe more than anyone else on the team.
The victory sends Maryland to its fourth Sweet 16 in the past five years and the fifth overall under Coach Frese.
They will match up with perennial powerhouse Connecticut. The Huskies trounced Vanderbilt 77-44 earlier this evening to reach the program’s 20th consecutive Sweet 16. That game will be played in Bridgeport, CT on Saturday. Game time has not been set.
The Quinnipiac Bobcats finished the regular season with an 18-0 mark against Northeast Conference opponents. They followed that impressive feat with three more conference wins on the way to the conference title and an automatic birth in the NCAA Tournament. At 30-2, it was almost surprising that they only received a 13 seed and had to face Maryland.
The weakness of their conference and lack of height was not evident early in the game as the Bobcats played terrific interior defense and crashed the boards well on offense. A solid effort from long range helped them push their early lead to as many as 9 points.
Maryland just about shut down Quinnipiac’s outside game the rest of the way, though, and eventually wore them down in the paint. The Terps grabbed about 20 more rebounds than the Bobcats in the second half on the way to a 72-52 victory. Maryland led by just 4 at halftime.
Coach Brenda Frese attributed the team’s slow start to rustiness. The Lady Terps’ last game was two weeks ago when they lost to North Carolina in the ACC Tournament semifinals. But they made solid adjustments during the first half and entered the half on a 17-4 run.
Tianna Hawkins and Alyssa Thomas recorded double-doubles while both Alicia DeVaughn and Katie Rutan finished just 2 points shy of the same feat. In fact, 57 of the team’s 58 rebounds, as well as 68 of Maryland’s points, came from those four players.
The Terrapins will face Michigan State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Monday at 7 p.m. The Spartans defeated Marist 55-47 to advance.
After scoring the ACC Tournament’s first ever triple-double a night ago, Alyssa Thomas struggled to find her shot in the first half of today’s semi-final. She got to the charity stripe often and hit her free throws.
Katie Rutan had a big half, knocking down three triples and Maryland ran away to a 14-point lead at halftime. The Terps looked dominant and North Carolina looked completely overmatched.
Talk about a tale of two halves. The Heels went on a run right out of the gate and quickly cut Maryland’s lead to single digits. Tierra Ruffin-Pratt and Waltiea Rolle put together solid performances.
But the real story for UNC was Latifah Coleman, who came off the bench and scored all of her 17 points in the second half. The Tar Heels outscored Maryland 48-27 in the final 20 minutes and Coleman was a big part of their effort.
Thomas found her shot in the second half. Unfortunately, the team cooled off from beyond the arc. After North Carolina grabbed the lead the Terps looked frantic, including Thomas. Usually cool under pressure, she forced several shots, trying to put the whole team on her back.
The loss puts an end to Maryland’s bid for a second consecutive ACC Championship. They will look to change their fortunes in the NCAA Tournament.
The Tar Heels will face the Duke Blue Devils, who beat Florida State 72-66 in the early semifinal, at 2 p.m. tomorrow for the ACC Championship.
In a conference tournament, anything can happen. The atmosphere is completely different than any home game, or road game for that matter, can offer. Players approach tournament games differently, even if they honestly don’t think they do. Coaches spend a little extra time preparing their players. And the fans cheer a little extra hard. Conference tournaments are made for underdogs.
But if you plan to win as an underdog, you have to do it in regulation. Playing a team that is better than you in overtime is a suicide mission, and Wake Forest found that out the hard way yesterday.
Chelsea Douglas put together a fantastic performance for the Demon Deacons, scoring 31 points while grabbing 5 steals and dishing off 5 dimes. Asia Williams contributed 19 and Boykin added 17, including four big points late in the game as she tried to lift her team to the upset.
The Lady Terps played sloppy throughout the first half, rushing the pace and allowing the Demon Deacons way too many transition buckets off turnovers. Freshman guard Chloe Pavlech helped Maryland keep the lead through the first half with some clutch shooting from beyond the arc. Both teams were hot from long range early but Wake cooled off down the stretch.
The Deacons did exactly what they needed to early in the second half. They seized a small lead and extended it through solid defense and crafty ball movement on offense, playing faster than Maryland could keep up with. Wake tired down the stretch though and the Terps fought their way back.
Pavlech hit her fourth triple of the night with thirty seconds left to give Maryland the lead but some more scoring in the final seconds led to a 79-79 tie.
Overtime was ugly to Wake, as the Lady Terps outscored them, 13-2. Upsets happen, but the better team rarely loses in overtime.
As big a night as Douglas had, it was overshadowed not only by Maryland’s victory but by Alyssa Thomas, who notched the ACC Tournament’s first ever triple-double, scoring 32 points while grabbing 13 rebounds and passing for 10 assists.
An exciting conclusion to the late quarterfinal left North Carolina tired but victorious over Boston College. They will face Maryland at 3:30 this afternoon. Florida State plays Duke in the early semifinal, at 1:00 p.m.