No. 11 Maryland (28-6), a fourth-seed, has come the closest to defeating No. 2 Notre Dame (36-0)this season. On Jan. 27 in College Park, Md., the Terrapins fell behind 41-19 early in the first half but closed the half on a 16-6 run to cut the halftime deficit to 47-35.
That’s when All-American Alyssa Thomas took over the game for the Terrapins.
Thomas scored 19 of her 29 points in the second half, including a jumper with 9:59 left to give Maryland a 64-63 lead. Notre Dame answered with a 7-0 run on a driving layup by senior All-American Kayla McBride, two free throws by Michaela Mabrey and a three by McBride.
After Maryland cut it to one (75-74), McBride sank another trey and Jewell Loyd added an old-fashioned three with a basket-and-one, plus a put-back bucket. Then up by two (85-83) with the shot-clock about to expire McBride nailed a contested jumper with 12.2 seconds remaining to give the Fighting Irish a 87-83 win.
Thomas had a dominant performance in the low post. She also grabbed 12 rebounds and had five assists.
Loyd finished with a career high 31 points on 12 of 20 shooting from the field for Notre Dame while McBride added 20 on 7 of 11 from the floor and Mabrey 13, highlighted by 3 of 6 from beyond the three-point arc.
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish secured its fourth consecutive NCAA regional title on March 31 with a 88-69 victory over No. 5 Baylor. Loyd was named the Notre Dame Regional Most Outstanding Player after scoring 30 points against Baylor. The Fighting Irish’s 36 victories is a school record and they have won 26 straight road games – also a school record.
Maryland leads the all-time series 4-3, but Notre Dame has won the last two meetings.
Overall, Notre Dame is making their sixth NCAA Women's Final Four appearance.
Notre Dame ranks in the top-10 in seven different categories and leads the nation in field goal percentage (51) and three-point percentage (40.8).The Fighting Irish average 86.6 points a game and allow 61 points a contest. They shoot 75.2 percent from the charity stripe.
Notre Dame is 13-0 against ranked teams this season, with 12 of those victories by double figures.
Maryland: The Terrapins are making their 22nd NCAA appearance and 10th and 10th under head coach Brenda Frese. They are 37-20 (.649) all-time in the Tournament and are 25-8 (.758) with Frese. Frese has led the program to six Sweet Sixteen appearance, five Elite-Eights, two Final Fours and a 2006 national championship.
Overall, Maryland has made four Final Four appearances.
Maryland has a deep bench as they have 10 players playing 13.0 minutes a game and nine players averaging 5.0 points a game.The Terrapins bench averages 33.7 points per game and has contributed 40 or more points on 14 occasions.
Maryland averages 83.2 points a game and surrenders 61.8 points a contest. The Terrapins shoot 49 percent from the field and 36.1 percent from beyond the arc. Maryland shoots 73.9 percent from the free throw line.
Notre Dame G Lindsey Allen, G Kayla McBride, G Jewell Loyd, F Ariel Braker and F Taya Reimer.
Maryland:G Lexi Brown, G Katie Rutan, F Alyssa Thomas, F Brionna Jones and C Alicia DeVaughn.
X-Factors: Taya Reimer (Notre Dame), Lexie Brown (Maryland)
Reimer, a freshman, will likely replace Natalie Achonwa, who is out after tearing her ACL versus in the starting lineup. The former McDonald’s Player of the Year can score by posting up and off the dribble. She got off to a great start but hit the proverbial wall late in the season. Reimer, who averaged 7.4 points and 4.6 rebounds a game this season, will be primarily responsible for being solid on the defensive end and rebounding.
Brown, a freshman, is averaging 10.1 points and 4.3 assists a contest. She has scored in double-figures in eight of the Fighting Irish last 10 games and 16 for her career. Brown is shooting 43.2 percent from the floor and 37.3 percent from beyond the arc. She has made a triple in 23 games this season and dished out five or more assists 17 times.
Key to the game: Notre Dame guards vs. Maryland frontcourt
Notre Dame uses a three-guard lineup that features two All-Americans Loyd (18.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, plus a team high 57 steals) and McBride (17.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, plus a team high 142 assists). Allen, the other starter, is averaging 6.2 points and has a 2-to-1 assist/turnover ratio.
The Fighting Irish also have solid guards coming off the bench. Mabrey has connected on 70 triples this year and averages 8.8 points a game. Madison Cable is effective on both ends of the floor and averages 5.6 points and 3.4 rebounds a game.
Notre Dame averages 20.6 assists and 9.6 steals a game.
Thomas (19.1 points and 11.0 rebounds per game), the ACC Player of the Year for third straight season, is the star player for Maryland, whose main strength is their frontcourt. They led the ACC, and finished third in the nation, in rebounding with over 44 rebounds a game. The Terrapins, who outrebounds their opponents by 11.6 a game, also average 43.7 points in the paint and 15.2 offensive rebounds a game.
Maryland has six players, 6-2 or taller. DeVaugh, 6-4, is the Irish main low-post threat, other than Thomas, averages 7.4 points and 5.4 rebounds a game. She has scored in double figures 10 times this season. 6-4 Jones (6.6 points and 4.6 rebounds), 6-3 Tierney Pfirman (5.3 points, 3.8 rebounds) and 6-4 Malina Howard (4.3 points, 2.4 rebounds) also contribute.
Muffett McGraw is 10th on the all-time women’s basketball wins list with 750 career victories, 662 of those have come in 27 seasons with the Fighting Irish. McGraw was named National Coach of the Year this season.
Brenda Frese: Frese is 290-90 in 12 years at Maryland and is 327-120 overall. She has led the Terrapins to 10 NCAA tournament appearance and two Final Four appearances. Frese has a 25-8 record in the NCAA tournament.
Prediction: Notre Dame 77-75.