In losing for the first time in a month, the fourth-seeded Terrapins were thoroughly overmatched at their own game, which normally includes supremacy in the paint. Notre Dame outrebounded Maryland 50-21, the largest margin in Final Four history. The Terrapins’ 21 rebounds were the lowest total in a Final Four game.
Freshman Brionna Jones led the way with 16 points for the Terrapins, who defeated top-seeded Tennessee in the Sweet 16 and No. 3 Louisville in the Elite Eight.
But the top-seeded Fighting Irish simply proved too much of a step up in class as they advanced to play Connecticut for the national title Tuesday night.
“Obviously, the better team won tonight,” Maryland Coach Brenda Frese said. “I thought Notre Dame just did a terrific job, really took advantage. I thought they set the tone from the first possession with the offensive rebounding, being dominant on the glass.
“Really when the season ends, only one team gets to end with a win, so couldn’t be more proud of the ride this team took us on.”
The conclusion was particularly difficult for senior forward Alyssa Thomas, who so often had been able to direct the Terrapins to victory with her power and force of will.
But Maryland’s career scoring leader finished Sunday’s game with 14 points on 5-for-13 shooting and six rebounds while dealing with foul trouble much of the game.
The Terrapins, who lost to Notre Dame in the regular season and in the 2012 Elite Eight, got 11 points each from junior guard Laurin Mincy and freshman point guard Lexie Brown.
Brown added eight assists, three rebounds and one steal.
“I’m just sad that we couldn’t win her a championship,” Brown said of Thomas.
The Fighting Irish made sure of that by turning a 17-point lead at the half into a 59-37 margin in a blink of an eye.
It happened thanks to consecutive baskets from senior forward Kayla McBride. Maryland had few answers for the first-team all-American and Notre Dame’s second-leading scorer, who recorded 19 of her game-high 28 points in the first half and added seven rebounds and two assists.
The Terrapins (28-7) went toe-to-toe with their first-year ACC opponent in the early stages until Notre Dame used a 10-2 run to gain separation.
It began when Markisha Wright (12 points, nine rebounds) collected a pair of offensive rebounds and scored both times. Mincy scored on a driving layup for Maryland that tied the score at 17, but McBride made a jumper and layup, prompting Frese to call a timeout.
The Fighting Irish scored 12 of the next 16 points, including consecutive three-point plays from McBride and freshman guard Lindsay Allen (St. John’s High). By the time Taya Reimer scored on a layup off a nifty pass from Allen, Notre Dame was ahead 33-21.
The lead swelled to 48-31 going into intermission when Madison Cable got an open look from beyond the three-point arc and swished the attempt at the halftime buzzer.
Before that field goal, the Fighting Irish got a layup from Reimer, and Notre Dame Coach Muffet McGraw called a timeout to set up her defense.
That decision led to Mincy’s missed three-pointer during a first half in which Maryland trailed in second-chance points (12-0), offensive rebounding (11-1) and points off turnovers (17-2).
Thomas became Maryland’s all-time rebounding leader early in the first half but otherwise had one of her worst games of the season, exiting for a final time with 1 minute 33 seconds left in regulation.
“I’m sad to see it be the last game, but I can’t be disappointed,” Thomas said. “We made it to the Final Four, and I had so much fun this year. I know we’ll get stronger from this game, and we’ll be back next year.”
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