GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) — Amid and happiness and on-court celebration for Maryland reaching the Elite Eight for the first time in eight years, Terps coach Brenda Frese took a few moments to smile and reflect how far her team has come in the past year.
The best part for Frese is the journey’s not done yet.
Diamond Miller and Shyanne Sellers had 18 points apiece as the Terps (28-6) took control in the third quarter to defeat depleted No. 3 seed Notre Dame 76-59 on Saturday and move a victory away from a trip to the Final Four.
The Terps will play either defending champion South Carolina, the top overall seed, or No. 4 seed UCLA on Monday night for a trip to Dallas.
Chasing a championship didn’t look promising at the end of last season. Frese had lost 85 percent of her offense a year ago as Maryland went through a roster transition with nine new faces. The group gelled quickly and are among the last teams still standing in March Madness.
“What I felt like a year ago and to where we are today,” recalled Frese, who won an NCAA title 2006 and last reached the Elite Eight in 2015. “Yeah, this one is going to be one I’ll remember for a very long time.”
Miller, the transcendent 6-foot-3 All-American, was asked why she didn’t join the exodus from Maryland after her junior season a year ago.
She reasoned that stay or go, she’d play with new, unfamiliar players. “When you look at it like that, I was like, ‘I’m just going to stay and trust the process.’ And I’m so happy I did,” Miller said.
Miller and Sellers combined for 30 of their 36 points in the final two quarters.
The third-seeded Fighting Irish (27-6) played once again without injured leading-scorer Olivia Miles after her knee injury at the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament earlier this month.
Miles and guard Dara Mabrey, both starters, were injured spectators for Notre Dame, which hung tight with Maryland for 25 minutes before Miller and Sellers took over.
Miller, the first-team All-American, shook off a poor first half as Maryland gained control. Tied at 44-all, Lavender Briggs had a 3-pointer and Miller followed with a three-point play as the Terps closed the third quarter on a 13-1 run.
Notre Dame, which fought off Mississippi State on its home floor to advance last week, could not respond.
Maryland used its defensive pressure to break out early, forcing eight turnovers by the Fighting Irish to build a 19-14 lead. But Notre Dame showed its NCAA Tournament resiliency once more with a 13-0 burst to move in front 27-19.
Miller and Brinae Alexander each hit 3-pointers in the final 80 seconds of the half to cut the lead to 32-31.
Things changed in the second half as the Terps and their leading scorers turned up the fire.
“I just felt like they were confident and aggressive and they got really good looks, and they nailed every shot that they took,” Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey said.
Part of Notre Dame’s success was holding Miller in check the first 20 minutes. She was just 1-of-4 shooting with two rebounds and three of her team’s eight turnovers. When Miller got going, Maryland was moving on to where it hadn’t been since 2015.
Sonia Citron led the Fighting Irish with 14 points, their only double-figure scorer.
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish were not expected to get this far after Miles knee injury at the ACC Tournament. Ivey thought her team’s run to the Sweet 16 will give them confidence to get back to work and put up another stellar season.
Maryland: Frese has been enthralled by this team after folding so many new faces this season. Maryland will look for perhaps its most unexpected Final Four visit when it plays for the Greenville 1 Regional on Monday night.
Maryland was just the third team in the women’s NCAA Tournament this century to allow two 3-pointers or less, record 15 or more steals and win by 15 or more points, according to OptaSTATS. Duke accomplished the other two, first in 2002 against Texas, then in 2012 against St. John’s. Notre Dame made just two threes and finished with a season-high 25 turnovers.
Ivey said second-leading scorer Olivia Miles will have surgery next week and is hopeful she can take part when the Fighting Irish return for workouts this summer. Ivey said much depends on how the knee surgery goes and how long it will take to recuperate.