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ND Women’s Basketball: Similarities with Notre Dame abound

Chris Masoud | Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The similarities are staggering.

Notre Dame and Maryland will be playing for each program’s fourth trip to the Final Four in NCAA tournament history. Irish coach Muffet McGraw and Terrapins coach Brenda Frese are responsible for each program’s only national title. Big East Player of the Year Skylar Diggins leads Notre Dame; ACC Player of the Year Alyssa Thomas leads Maryland.

But the source of each team’s success couldn’t be more different: Maryland uses its size to overpower opponents while Notre Dame uses its quickness.

Averaging 17.2 points and eight rebounds per game, Thomas highlights a Terrapin frontcourt that ranked first in the ACC in rebounding margin at plus-13.8.

“We look to use our length to get on the glass,” Thomas said Monday. “We know that gives a lot of teams a lot of trouble. We’re able to use our length on defense and create havoc out there.

“We know we have a height advantage on [Notre Dame], especially inside, so I know our inside game is going to be a huge thing for us tomorrow.”

Maryland starts a 6-foot-4 center in sophomore Alicia DeVaughn, a 6-foot-3 forward in junior Tianna Hawkins and a 6-foot-2 forward in sophomore Thomas. On the other hand, Notre Dame starts four guards and 6-foot-2 graduate student forward Devereaux Peters, who averages 9.4 rebounds per game.

“When you talk about an Alyssa Thomas who’s playing your three-spot at 6-foot-2 and now your three, four and five [positions] are rebounding the way they are … Those are the intangibles,” Frese said. “For us, it gives us second-chance opportunities, it gives us more looks at the basket and it’s been an emphasis and kind of a trademark as we continue to recruit players into this program.”

McGraw acknowledged the inability to replicate Thomas in practice due to her versatility and skill set as a forward-guard hybrid.

“It’s impossible to simulate [Thomas]. We’ll have to talk about what we’re going to do and just use their imagination because she’s a great player,” McGraw said. “She’s really hard to guard because she’s so strong and she’s got a lot of guard skills in a post body. She can do a lot of things around the basket.”

Despite Notre Dame’s greater postseason experience, Thomas said a difficult conference schedule, including two matchups apiece against top-10 teams in Duke and Miami, has prepared the Terrapins for the physical and mental challenge of unseating the Raleigh region’s No. 1 seed. Thomas led the ACC in scoring as the conference’s most dynamic offensive threat.

“We know it’s going to be a very physical game,” she said. “We know Notre Dame is a very physical team in general. We just have to come out there and take the hits and give it back to them, and just plan on it for 40 minutes.”

Ultimately, each team’s greatest strength may be the one intangible Diggins and Thomas share – the ability to take over a close game in the final minutes.

“When we are down and we need a quick hitter, my team has confidence in me to come down the stretch and hit a big shot,” Thomas said.

Contact Chris Masoud at cmasoud@nd.edu