By Don Markus, The Baltimore Sun
12:45 AM EDT, March 28, 2012
RALEIGH, N.C. -- The Maryland women's team buried itself with another big deficit Tuesday night against Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament regional final here at PNC Arena. Unlike defending national champion Texas A&M, the fourth-ranked, second-seeded Irish did not allow the Terps to get a second wind.
In fact, Maryland could barely breathe at all.
The result was a demoralizing 80-49 defeat for the second-seeded, fifth-ranked Terps that ended their season and their dream of going to Denver for this year's Final Four. It was even worse than Maryland's 17-point defeat here in its last trip to the Elite Eight three years ago, when the Terps lost to Louisville.
"Obviously, tonight was Notre Dame's night. I thought they were spectacular," Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. "They really did a tremendous job at all ends of the floor. They beat us at our rebounding game and destroyed us on the glass."
Speaking about the 46-27 advantage the Irish had on the boards, sophomore forward Alyssa Thomas said: "They beat us at our own game. They crashed the [offensive] boards hard."
Maryland (31-5) stayed even with Notre Dame (34-3) for the first eight minutes before a 16-1 run by the Irish broke the game open. Junior guard Skylar Diggins, the Big East Conference Player of the Year, scored nine points in the run and 13 of her game-high 22 points in the first half.
But Diggins did more than just score. She finished with a triple double, adding 11 assists and 10 rebounds. She helped the Irish to a 19-point lead at halftime (40-21) that grew quickly to 20 (43-23 with 18:58 remaining) to 30 (72-42 with 7:44 left) and eventually to 32 (74-42 18 seconds later).
Asked whether Diggins surprised the Terps with her all-around game, Thomas said: "Yeah, a little bit. She's a great player, but she went off tonight. Words can't explain -- she's just a really good player, and we didn't have an answer for her tonight."
While Diggins did her typical star turn for the Irish, Thomas struggled against Notre Dame's suffocating defense for much of the game. Thomas, who played well in spurts against Texas A&M after spending a lot of time on the bench against Louisville, finished with 17 points, the majority coming after the game had been decided.
Maryland, which trailed the Aggies by as many as 18 points in the first half and by 11 in the second half before a game-closing 24-6 produced an 81-74 victory, never got closer than 17 points after halftime against Notre Dame. Frese thought the energy her team expended in coming back Sunday affected the Terps on Tuesday night.
"I thought we looked really tired," she said. "I think a lot of that was based on having to come back in the A&M game being down 18. Just our energy and effort felt was spent in the game before."
Not that Frese was too disappointed. Maryland had overachieved this season, winning the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament and going further in the NCAA tournament than many had expected. Next season's Terps will have back Thomas, junior forward Tianna Hawkins (10 points) and sophomore guard Laurin Mincy (only two points Tuesday after totaling 44 the previous two games) as well as several others.
"Like I told the team in the locker room, I appreciate the journey and the ride that we got to spend," Frese said. "You couldn't ask for a better group, a better team in terms of how committed each and every one was to this team and this program."
Said senior guard Kim Rodgers: "We had a phenomenal season. We had a lot of good wins this year, a lot of comeback wins. We just weren't able to get it done tonight. We [the seniors] have been to two Elite Eights, two ACC championships, and we are champions in our own right. It's not fun sitting here and [saying] we didn't get to the Final Four, but we accomplished a lot."
Looking at a Notre Dame team that will go to its second straight Final Four after losing to Texas A&M in last year's championship game in Indianapolis -- the Irish will meet Big East rival Connecticut on Sunday at Pepsi Center in Denver -- Thomas said Maryland was defeated by a more experienced opponent.
"They know each other's game, they've been playing with each other for three, four years," Thomas said in the quiet Maryland dressing room. "You can see the kind of chemistry they have. They're a great team. You can't take that one away from them, but we'll be back."
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