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.