RALEIGH, N.C. — A spirited run through the NCAA women’s basketball tournament concluded resoundingly on Tuesday for second-seeded Maryland, which was unable to overcome a double-figure deficit in the first half that kept expanding during an 80-49 loss to No. 1 seed Notre Dame in the Raleigh Region final at PNC Arena.
Making its first appearance in the region final since 2009, Maryland had a 10-game winning streak end and lost for just the second time in 15 games. Through much of that upswing, the Terrapins had made a habit of coming from behind to win, often extricating themselves from significant margins.
That scenario never came close to unfolding this time in Maryland’s most lopsided defeat of the season. With almost surgical precision, Notre Dame carved up Maryland with junior all-American point guard Skylar Diggins alertly getting the ball to open cutters, driving the lane herself or pulling up to swish a mid-range jumper.
Diggins finished with a game-high 22 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds and five steals, and sophomore forward Natalie Achonwa added 18 points and seven rebounds to help push Notre Dame to its second consecutive Final Four, where it will seek redemption after losing to Texas A&M in last season’s national title game.
Sophomore forward Alyssa Thomas, who joined Diggins as a first-team all-American, led Maryland with 17 points on 7-for-12 shooting, six rebounds and three assists. Junior forward Tianna Hawkins and sophomore center Alicia DeVaughn each had 10 points for the Terrapins, who were uncharacteristically and handily outrebounded, 46-27, after entering the game second in the country in rebounding margin.
“Obviously tonight was Notre Dame’s night,” Maryland Coach Brenda Frese said. “I thought they were really spectacular. Really did a tremendous job on all ends of the floor, beat us at our rebounding game, just destroyed us on the glass.”
Maryland shot 39 percent, failed to make a three-pointer (0 for 8) for the second time this season, went to the line just eight times and committed 21 turnovers. The Fighting Irish, meantime, scored 26 points off those miscues and went to the free throw line 17 times, making 13.
Despite the loss, Maryland briefly ascended into the national conversation for the first time in years on the strength of a 31-5 season, a record 10th ACC tournament championship and a regional semifinal win against Texas A&M, the reigning national champion.
In the latter game, the Terrapins rallied from an 18-point deficit to earn a date with Notre Dame, which won the Big East regular season title and was ranked in the top four nationally all season.
The Fighting Irish (34-3) quashed any notion of another such comeback by scoring seven of the first eight points in the second half to grow their lead to 47-24 with 17 minutes 31 seconds to play. Notre Dame’s largest lead was 32 points, coming with 7:14 to go.
“We worked so hard to get back to this point, and this feels so good to come out here and make a statement with this game,” Diggins said.
Notre Dame got the upper hand midway through the first half, 28-13, on the strength of a 16-1 flurry and never looked back. Diggins and Achonwa were responsible for the first eight of those points for the Fighting Irish, and sophomore forward Kayla McBride’s three-pointer came 46 seconds after Frese had called timeout to try to stem the rush.
But Notre Dame kept applying pressure when Diggins got into the lane for a layup and was fouled. The candidate for national player of the year made the free throw, and McBride followed with a pair of foul shots in the one-and-one bonus with 6:20 to play.
At that point, Maryland had gone nearly six minutes without a field goal. Sophomore guard Laurin Mincy ended the draught for the Terrapins, but it wasn’t long before the Fighting Irish were at it again.
After the teams traded baskets, Notre Dame reeled off eight of the next 10 points. Achonwa had consecutive field goals in that spurt, prompting Frese to call another timeout. DeVaughn collected an offensive rebound moments later and put it back to draw Maryland to 38-21.
Diggins, though, drove deep into the teeth of the defense and got a layup to fall as she was fouled with three seconds left until halftime. Although Diggins missed the bonus free throw, Notre Dame was comfortably ahead, 40-21, heading into the locker room.
“It’s been phenomenal,” said guard Kim Rodgers, who along with fellow seniors Anjale Barrett and Lynetta Kizer played her final game at Maryland. “We had a lot of great wins this year. We had a lot of comeback wins. We just weren’t able to get it done tonight. It’s not fun having to sit here and say we didn’t get to the Final Four, but I think we accomplished a lot.”