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Diamond Miller, Maryland hit a higher gear for a third straight Sweet 16 trip

Greenville Region 1 second round: No. 2 Maryland 77, No. 7 Arizona 64

Diamond Miller had another standout day as Maryland secured its spot in the Sweet 16. (Jess Rapfogel for The Washington Post)
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Diamond Miller always lingers on the court after the Maryland Terrapins’ warmups wrap up. Her team huddles for a quick message and breaks for the locker room, and Miller looks for a ball — she needs one more to go in. On Sunday afternoon, it was a quick shot from the interior.

That layup led to many more. The second-team all-American attacked the rim ferociously as she helped the Terps rally from a halftime deficit for a 77-64 victory over seventh-seeded Arizona in the second round of the NCAA tournament, sending Maryland to its third consecutive Sweet 16.

“Your all-American does what she’s supposed to do,” Coach Brenda Frese said. “I thought the third quarter, it was Miller time. … Like we’ve seen Diamond do so many times in this building, [she] just willed her team, and I thought it started with her defense, the impact she was making there, to her offense. They had no answer for her.”

The Terps (27-6), the No. 2 seed in the Greenville (S.C.) 1 Region, erased a subpar second quarter with a dominant third. On Saturday, they will face third-seeded Notre Dame, which edged No. 11 seed Mississippi State, 53-48, earlier Sunday in South Bend, Ind. A Miller buzzer-beater lifted the Terps past the host Fighting Irish, 74-72, on Dec. 1.

Top-seeded and undefeated South Carolina also advanced to the regional semifinals by routing eighth-seeded South Florida, 76-45. No. 4 UCLA or No. 5 Oklahoma, who meet Monday in Los Angeles, will be the reigning national champion’s next opponent.

Miller did a little bit of everything Sunday as Maryland looked to run at every opportunity — after makes or misses. She finished with 24 points, seven assists, six rebounds and three steals. With her team up by 20 midway through the fourth quarter, the senior forced a jump ball to yield an Arizona turnover. The crowd erupted as she turned upcourt and pointed her long arms to signal that it was Maryland’s ball.

Sunday was probably Miller’s last time playing a college game at Xfinity Center; she is expected to be a lottery pick in the WNBA draft. As she checked out for the final time, she put her hands on her hips and exhaled, then gave Frese a bear hug on her way to the bench. A crowd waited to give Miller a standing ovation as she walked to the tunnel following a brief TV interview.

“It was a lot of emotions,” she said. “I was so happy that we’re going to the Sweet 16 again and it’s like, this could be my last time playing here, too — which is also, like, wow, four years go by so quickly. And then when it’s your last home game, you’re like, ‘Wait, what does that mean?’ So, yeah, it was definitely a surreal moment.”

Shyanne Sellers also left her fingerprints all over the game with 15 points, five rebounds, five assists and two blocks despite dealing with foul trouble. Brinae Alexander chipped in 12 points off the bench. Faith Masonius (12 points) scored in double figures for the third straight game after going 11 in a row without doing so, and she was a difference-maker on defense, too.

“Setting the tone defensively is huge for us,” Sellers said. “It leads to our offense, so bringing that energy, making teams feel uncomfortable from the jump can really set the tone and lay a path for the rest of the game. Obviously we laid off in the second quarter, which was not what we wanted to do, but just really setting the tone early really establishes how you’re going to dictate the game, and you want to be the dictator, not being dictated.”

Maryland took control of the game in the third quarter, opening with a 19-4 run capped by a Sellers layup off a pretty assist from Miller. Arizona (22-10) had outscored the Terps 25-15 in the second quarter, but Maryland swarmed on defense in the third, outscoring the Wildcats 29-9 and cruising the rest of the way. The Terps’ 78.6 percent shooting was their best in any quarter this season.

Arizona shot 3 for 15 (20 percent) in the quarter. Cate Reese finished with 19 points; Shaina Pellington added 13.

Maryland likes to “punch first” and make its opponent call the first timeout. The Terps accomplished exactly that with a 12-2 opening run, compelling Arizona to call a timeout after it fell behind 6-0. The Wildcats turned the ball over on their first three possessions, and Maryland took a 17-8 lead into the second quarter.

That period was a different story. A three-pointer by Abby Meyers with 7:16 left gave Maryland a 25-14 lead, but the game had already begun to turn. Sellers had checked out after committing her second foul with 7:49 to go, and the Terps would go nearly four minutes without scoring after Meyers’s bucket. Arizona strung together 10 straight points in that stretch, capitalizing on poor shot selection by Maryland and getting out in transition after those misses.

Arizona took its first lead at 31-29 and went into halftime with a 33-32 edge. The Wildcats shot a blistering 63.2 percent in the second quarter, but Miller and the rest of the Terps had other plans for the second half.

Arizona Coach Adia Barnes pointed to lapses in the Wildcats’ defense that led to their hopes fading in the third quarter.

“We didn’t have discipline and a sense of urgency in that third quarter, and I don’t know why,” she said. “I think just maybe us not being able to get the stops, we lost a little bit of confidence.”