When Alyssa Thomas was in the preliminary stages of choosing a college, the Pennsylvania native gave Notre Dame, among others, passing consideration before deciding on Maryland, where the senior has become the first two-time ACC player of the year in school history.
The Fighting Irish, meanwhile, have advanced to the past three Final Fours and finished as runners-up in the NCAA tournament in two of those seasons. During its run to the national championship game two years ago, Notre Dame throttled Maryland, 80-49, in Raleigh, N.C., although Thomas contributed 17 points, six rebounds, three assists and a steal.
Thomas and the sixth-ranked Terrapins are set to host No. 2 Notre Dame on Monday night in the teams’ first meeting since that loss in the regional final and for the first time with both schools as members of the ACC. The Fighting Irish are in their first season in the ACC after 18 years in the Big East.
It’s also the second time this season Maryland (16-2, 4-1 ACC) gets to measure itself against a regular participant in the Final Four after it lost to eight-time national champion Connecticut, 72-55, on Nov. 15 in College Park. Notre Dame (18-0, 5-0) and the top-ranked Huskies are the only undefeated teams in the country.
“I think a lot of things can happen. We’re still relatively early in conference play,” Maryland Coach Brenda Frese said. “We’ve never really gotten too far out ahead of ourselves with all of that. It’s been about staying in the moment, getting better and trying to improve, but it’s an opportunity. We’ve had the number one team in, and now we get to have the number two team in.”
The game matches programs that have been powerhouses in their respective conferences. Maryland has won five regular season championships and 10 tournament titles in the ACC. In 18 seasons in the Big East, where Connecticut reigns supreme, the Fighting Irish won three regular season titles and last season’s tournament championship.
The Terrapins had won 14 in a row before Thursday’s 86-72 loss to Virginia in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers shot 50 percent, including 44 percent from three-point range, and scored 20 points off 16 Maryland turnovers in beating a second straight ranked opponent at John Paul Jones Arena.
A lack of scoring balance plagued Maryland, which had one player other than Thomas reach double figures. Virginia had five players score at least 12 points.
Frese addressed those deficiencies following Maryland’s first conference defeat, and she said players responded with a sharp practice Saturday afternoon as the Terrapins try to avoid losing twice in a row for the first time since last February.
“We were disappointed to lose on the road like that,” said Thomas, who finished with a game-high 27 points on 9-for-14 shooting against Virginia to become the fourth player in Maryland history to reach 2,000 career points. “Now it’s all about getting back to us and focusing on playing better defense.”
With 2,020 points, the two-time all-American needs 59 to pass Kristi Toliver for third place and trails second-place Marissa Coleman by 180. Crystal Langhorne (2,247) is the Terrapins’ all-time scoring leader.
Thomas is averaging 17.8 points per game, ranking her seventh in the ACC. Her 11.2 rebounds are tied for first in the conference, and her 1,054 career rebounds are fourth at Maryland. Thomas is 33 rebounds from passing former teammate Tianna Hawkins for third place.
“Being Alyssa’s teammate has been absolutely amazing,” Maryland senior guard Katie Rutan said. “The only triple-doubles I’ve seen were from her, and to experience it on the court, it’s just insane. She’s the hardest worker I know, and she gets the recognition she deserves.”