COLLEGE PARK — Diamond Miller was not about to let her Maryland career end with slumped shoulders and red eyes on the home court where she had scored so many baskets and overcome so much pain.
Miller scored 13 of her game-high 24 points in the third quarter Sunday to lead a 29-9 surge that propelled the No. 2-seed Terps past Arizona and on to their third straight Sweet 16 appearance. After she made just two of nine shots in the first half, Miller showed why she will likely be a high pick in next month’s WNBA draft, floating, twisting and pirouetting past frozen Arizona defenders. When she left the court with less than a minute remaining in the game, she buried her face in both hands as she processed what she had pulled off.
“It was a lot emotionally,” Miller said. “I’m so happy we’re going to the Sweet 16 again. It was also like, this could be my last home game, which is like, wow, four years goes by so quickly. You’re like, ‘Wait what does that mean?’ I sometimes just need a second to live in the moment.”
Coach Brenda Frese’s mind turned to the arc of Miller’s career, from a freshman season cut short by the COVID pandemic to a knee injury last year to her recent triumphs. “Your senior All-American does what she’s supposed to do,” she said. “It was Miller time in the third quarter.”
Three teammates joined Miller in double figures in the Terps’ 77-64 victory.
Maryland (27-6) trailed the No. 7-seed Wildcats by one at halftime but attacked the basket with fury after the break to rescue a season in which it had already blown past expectations.
The Terps lost their top two scorers, Angel Reese and Ashley Owusu, to transfer last April, but rebounded to win more games and earn a higher NCAA tournament seed than they had in 2021-22. The transfers coach Brenda Frese recruited to restock her roster blended quickly with returning starters Miller, Shyanne Sellers and Faith Masonius. They believed their unselfishness and versatility would serve them well in the crucible of March basketball.
Now, Maryland will travel to Greenville, South Carolina, for a Saturday matchup with No. 3-seed Notre Dame, which scraped by Mississippi State earlier Sunday.
The Terps beat the Fighting Irish, 74-72, on the road in December, a key early rallying point for a Maryland team dominated by transfers and freshmen. This time around, Notre Dame will be without All-America point guard Olivia Miles, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last month.
“They’re different now, with the injuries they’ve had,” Frese said. “But you can see their success is the same. … It’s going to come down to defense and rebounding as it so often does in March.”
The Terps came into Sunday’s game with a haunted tournament history against Pac-12 visitors. In 2016, they fell to No. 7-seed Washington in the round of 32. In 2019, No. 6-seed UCLA ended their hopes at the same stage. But Maryland coach Brenda Frese had promised her team would be prepared for Arizona’s inside-outside scoring punch, and after a difficult second quarter in which the Terps squandered an 11-point lead, her words proved prophetic.
Masonius, whom the Terps refer to as “team mom,” implored Miller at halftime: “Diamond, you’ve got to make those.”
“It looked like she was probably challenged at halftime,” said Arizona coach Adia Barnes, who developed an appreciation for Miller when she coached her for USA Basketball. “She came out and she was on fire. She was just a handful for us.”
Masonius chipped in 12 points herself. “Faith just emptied the tank,” Frese said.
The Terps had used a ferocious press to jump to a 14-0 lead two days earlier against No. 15-seed Holy Cross, and they started fast again Sunday, forcing Arizona into turnovers and difficult attempts and going up 6-0 when Sellers (15 points, five assists) found Miller with a sweet full-court pass to create a layup. The Wildcats coughed up the ball five times before they made their first field goal, a sign that Maryland’s defense set the terms of engagement.
“It leads to our offense,” Sellers said.
But battle-hardened Arizona started two seniors and three fifth-year players and was not about to go down as easily as Holy Cross. The Wildcats kept the margin at six until a 3-pointer by Brinae Alexander put Maryland up 17-8 at the end of the first quarter. The Terps made eight of 14 field-goal attempts in the period but undermined themselves with six turnovers.
Arizona took a four-point lead in the second quarter, exploiting Maryland’s relative lack of size by feeding 6-foot-2 forwards Cate Reese and Esmery Martinez in the paint and converting turnovers into transition baskets. The Terps, meanwhile, went cold, making just five of 16 attempts from the field in the period. They did score the last three points of the half and went to the locker room down 33-32.
“We were making things a little bit more difficult,” Frese said. “I thought our shot selection went away from us, which allowed them to get easy runouts.”
The Terps opened the third quarter with renewed vigor, scoring nine straight points to retake the lead.
Masonius gave her classmate, Miller, a chest bump after the All-America guard split two defenders and finished with her left hand to put Maryland up three. Seconds later, Miller hit from 3-point range to extend the margin to 39-33.
The Terps continued to push the pace from there, shooting 79% from the field in the third quarter to build their lead to 61-42.
“They made us pay for every mistake,” Barnes said.
When it was over, Maryland players waved to their home fans from center court. Miller walked to the edge of the stands, slapping hands and posing for pictures. As a freshman, she had been afraid to talk to Frese. But on this night, she had absorbed hard coaching and come back stronger, as the best player on the floor. She and her teammates aren’t ready for this to stop. They want to take Maryland past the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2015.
“I know this group is not satisfied,” Frese said.
NCAA Tournament Sweet 16
No. 2 seed Maryland vs. No. 3 seed Notre Dame
Greenville, South Carolina
Saturday, 11:30 a.m.