GREENVILLE, S.C. — Sweetness gave way to joy for Maryland women’s basketball.
For the first time in eight years, the No. 2 seed Terps turned a Sweet 16 appearance into an Elite Eight date, defeating No. 3 seed Notre Dame, 76-59, in an NCAA Tournament regional semifinal Saturday afternoon at Bon Secours Wellness Arena.
Sophomore shooting guard Shyanne Sellers scored 16 of her 18 points in the second half and racked up eight assists, five rebounds and three steals as Maryland (28-6) outscored the Fighting Irish, 45-27, in the second half. Senior shooting guard Diamond Miller scored 14 of her 18 points in the second half and added five rebounds, four steals and two assists, senior shooting guard Lavender Briggs scored nine of her 12 points in the latter stanza and senior shooting guard Abby Meyers finished with 11 points and four steals.
With four assists between Sellers and Miller, the duo contributed to 84.4% of the team’s production in the last two quarters.
“I know personally for me, obviously, and yes, definitely Shy, we started out very slow,” Miller said. “It took us for real-for real the second half for us to pick it up.”
The Terps collected their first victory in the Sweet 16 since March 28, 2015, when that squad, a No. 1 seed at the time, beat No. 4 seed Duke, 65-55, in Spokane, Washington. They ended a run of three consecutive losses in the Sweet 16.
“It’s just exciting,” Sellers said. “Obviously, it’s fun to be a part of, but just doing it with a great coaching staff and great teammates is always the best part.”
Maryland will play in its first NCAA Tournament regional final since March 30, 2015, when that squad defeated No. 2 seed Tennessee, 58-48. It will face No. 1 overall seed and reigning national champion South Carolina (35-0) — a 59-43 winner over No. 4 seed UCLA in the other regional semifinal — on Monday at 7 p.m.
The Terps are 3-7 overall against top seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Their last meeting against a No. 1 seed was March 25, 2022, when that team was bounced in the Sweet 16 by Stanford, 72-66, in Spokane. Their last win against a top seed took place March 30, 2014, when that squad upended Tennessee, 76-63, in the Sweet 16 in Louisville, Kentucky.
Maryland has never faced South Carolina in the postseason but has dropped the past three meetings to slide to 2-4 in the series. The teams played Nov. 11 in College Park, with the Gamecocks cruising to an 81-56 romp behind 16 points and 13 rebounds from reigning National Player of the Year Aliyah Boston.
The outlook did not look rosy for the Terps in the second quarter Saturday when they couldn’t score a point in a 6:08 span. That opened the door for Notre Dame to score 13 unanswered points and assume a 27-19 advantage with 4:13 remaining.
A 3-pointer by Meyers, however, kick-started a 12-5 burst over the final 3:36 to draw Maryland within one, 32-31, at halftime.
After the teams battled to a tie at 44 with 4:31 left in the third quarter, the Terps closed the final 4:15 on a 13-1 spurt, including a 9-0 run in a 1:41 stretch. They carried a 57-45 advantage into the final period.
Maryland then outscored the Fighting Irish, 14-4, in the first 6:15 to put the outcome out of reach. In the second half, the Terps shot 42.9% (15 of 35) and converted 87.5% (14 of 16) of their free throws.
“I think just being more for me in the second half, trying to get more downhill,” said Sellers, who scored her team’s first seven points of the third quarter. “I think we were settling in a little bit too much in the first half with outside jumpers.”
The Terps stole the ball 15 times, contributing to Notre Dame’s season-worst 25 turnovers. They also used their quickness and outside shooting to negate the Fighting Irish’s size advantage in the post and induce a pair of starters in 6-foot-3 junior power forward Maddy Westbeld (nine points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals) and 6-4 graduate student center Lauren Ebo (seven points and five rebounds) into fouling out in the fourth quarter.
The victory continued what has been a comeback story for Maryland. In a span of 12 days after that season-ending setback to Stanford, five players — power forward Mimi Collins, shooting guard Taisiya Kozlova, shooting guard Channise Lewis, point guard Ashley Owusu and center Angel Reese — entered the transfer portal. The departures of Reese, a Baltimore native and St. Frances graduate who was the first player in school history to average a double-double in both points (17.8) and rebounds (10.6) since Angie Scott in 1975, and Owusu, who scored 14.3 points per game, were particularly frustrating.
Coach Brenda Frese revisited that time, which included the death of her father, Bill, on Jan. 16, 2022.
“It was a locker room that was me-centered versus we-centered,” she said. “Had so many changes, and [the transfer] portal is the new reality. You can tell from my family, they missed their mom, but their mom had to put her head down and go to work. So the competitive side came out, that we had a roster to fill.”
Maryland improved to 20-8 as the No. 2 seed. The program also raised its all-time series record against Notre Dame to 6-5 and earned its first NCAA Tournament victory over the Fighting Irish in three meetings after losses in 2012 and 2014.
Notre Dame (27-6) got 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists from sophomore point guard Sonia Citron but fell in the regional semifinal for the second consecutive year.
“Thought the second half, 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,” Fighting Irish coach Niele Ivey said. “So just really disheartening.”
The Fighting Irish were a shell of the team that took the Terps to the brink Dec. 1 before Miller’s last-second jumper sealed a 74-72 win. They clearly missed a pair of starters in All-American point guard Olivia Miles (season-ending right knee injury on Feb. 26) and shooting guard Dara Mabrey (right ACL tear and tibial plateau fracture on Jan. 22), who had combined for 22 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in that earlier meeting.
NCAA Tournament Elite Eight
No. 2 seed Maryland vs. No. 1 seed South Carolina
Greenville, South Carolina
Monday, 7 p.m.