NCAA women's tournament • Analysis
What comes next for Caitlin Clark is the hardest part
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South Carolina overwhelms Maryland and advances to the Final Four

No. 1 seed Gamecocks 86, No. 2 seed Terrapins 75

South Carolina's Aliyah Boston (4) scores over Maryland's Brinae Alexander (3) and Lavender Briggs during an Elite Eight game in Greenville, S.C. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
6 min

GREENVILLE, S.C. — Diamond Miller and Shyanne Sellers came running out of the tunnel just under 30 minutes before Monday’s Elite Eight game, giggling and shoving each other. Seconds later Sellers was waving her arms to the Maryland band to start playing.

There were no outward signs of nerves for Maryland, preparing to face the defending champion that had lost just two games in two seasons. But there was one more thing the Terrapins didn’t have — reigning national and defensive player of the year Aliyah Boston.

Maryland aggressively fought for four quarters, but Boston was a constant and steadying force, and the Terps’ postseason run came to an end in an 86-75 loss to a team looking to close out an undefeated season. South Carolina (36-0) goes on to face Iowa in the Final Four in Dallas.

“I think we fought hard today,” Miller said. “Supposedly we’re undersized, but we just lost to the defending reigning champs by 11, and other teams that had bigger posts than us are getting blown out by 30. I don’t believe in moral victories of any sort, but I think we fought hard. I’m going to tip my hat to them. I usually don’t do that, but they’re big, and I think what was our downfall.”

The 2022-23 Terrapins (28-7) surpassed expectations after starting the season ranked 17th in the Associated Press preseason poll and being picked to finish fourth in the Big Ten. They replaced five of their top six scorers and relied on four transfers. The group, however, played with chemistry, leaning on all-American Miller, much-improved sophomore Sellers and 2021-22 Ivy League player of the year Abby Meyers. The team lost just three games after a Jan. 12 defeat at Indiana.

“They upheld the standard with so many question marks, but they set their own stamp,” Coach Brenda Frese said. “Nobody expected this team to be anywhere near an Elite Eight. Some question whether they were even going to make the tournament.”

South Carolina, playing in its home state, did what it has done to opponents all season — overwhelmed them with size and athleticism. And Boston, expected to be the No. 1 pick in the WNBA draft in April, settled the Gamecocks down when they trailed after the first quarter and denied all comeback attempts.

Miller, projected to be a lottery pick, led Maryland with 24 points, and Meyers scored 14 before fouling out for the first time this season early in the fourth quarter. Maryland shot 50 percent from the field, but it wasn’t enough.

Miller walked off the court for the final time as a collegian wiping her eyes and shared a long hug with Frese near center court.

“Just how much I loved her, how proud I was of her,” Frese said about moment with Miller. “Just thank you. It’s been an incredible journey that she trusted to this coaching staff and to continue to be here at Maryland. Had nothing to hang her head about. She left everything out there and poured into it out for us this entire season.”

Faith Masonius, the on-court director of the defense, also fouled out, and Sellers, Miller and Brinae Alexander dealt with foul trouble throughout the game. Twenty-six fouls were a season high for Maryland. South Carolina shot 26 free throws and outrebounded Maryland 48-26. The Gamecocks scored 23 second-chance points off 25 offensive rebounds.

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“This team just has no quit,” said Sellers, who credited the season’s success for the genuine chemistry the group had. “We weren’t going to let them run us out the gym. We were going to make it a tough battle. It’s hard to do that when you’ve got six people that have four fouls. Two foul out. I mean, it is what it is.”

Boston finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Zia Cooke added 18 points, and Brea Beal chipped in 16. The size was just too much with Boston standing 6-foot-5, Beal 6-1 and Kamilla Cardoso coming off the bench at 6-7.

South Carolina has advanced to the Final Four in five of the past eight tournaments.

“Not a lot of teams can say they’re able to do this,” Boston said. “So for us to be able to do it feels really good, and it’s such a blessing we won’t ever take for granted.”

Maryland trailed 38-30 at halftime after an inspired first quarter followed by a rugged second quarter where fouls piled up as South Carolina muscled its way inside. The overwhelmingly South Carolina crowd seemed stunned after an opening 10 minutes in which Maryland led 21-15 thanks to a 12-0 run.

Meyers was all over the place, and the Terps’ energy and intensity offset the Gamecocks’ height and athleticism advantage. It was just the fourth 20-point quarter South Carolina has allowed all season.

“The game had to settle down,” South Carolina Coach Dawn Staley said. “Obviously, Maryland came on and played extremely fast, just moving the ball up and down the floor. They were extremely physical, and I thought it just took us a while to get our footing, to really make adjustments to how they were playing us. And once we did, we basically just fought aggression with aggression, because they were really aggressive.”

The tide turned as Miller and Sellers sat most of the second quarter with two fouls and Masonius and Alexander were also on the bench for a long stretch with a pair of fouls. As the whistles blew, South Carolina had a parade to the foul line, and when it missed it often grabbed the offensive board for a second chance.

Maryland was outscored 23-9 in the second quarter as the Terps simply tried to survive. The Gamecocks shot 14 free throws in the second quarter, 10 more than Maryland.

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“You felt like you were coaching with one arm behind your back,” Frese said. “You really had to kind of try to get a feel. When they were calling so many of them, you were kind of just juggling who you had on the bench and … and it kind of felt like that all game. You’re just trying to see who you could keep in the longest. But that second quarter was costly, the amount of free throws.”

Boston was named the most outstanding player of the Greenville 1 Region, and Miller and Meyers were named to the all-region team.