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ND Women’s Basketball: Terrapin Time

Molly Sammon | Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Only Maryland stands in the way of Notre Dame’s second consecutive trip to the Final Four of the NCAA tournament. To win the Raleigh, N.C., regional final, the top-seeded Irish need to beat the second-seeded Terrapins, the same team that ousted defending national champion Texas A&M 81-74 in the Sweet 16.

“We’ve got to really be able to run our offense and execute against a team that’s very physical and very fast,” Irish coach Muffet McGraw said. “They’ve got some good matchups on their side. I think the mismatches are all us trying to guard them. We’ve just got to go into it, play our game and defensively you don’t have anybody you can leave on their team.”

Notre Dame suppressed its three previous tournament opponents to a 33.1 percent shooting percentage from the field for an average of 46.7 points per game. After knocking Liberty and California out of the tournament at home, the Irish earned a spot in the Elite Eight with a 79-35 win over St. Bonaventure on Sunday. The Bonnies’ 35 points were the fewest scored in a regional game in the history of the NCAA tournament.

“I think we’ve held our composure and I think that’s what sets us apart from the rest because we hold our composure,” graduate student forward Devereaux Peters said. “We’ve been there before, we’ve done this last year and we have players that are seasoned and have done this before. We know what it’s like, we know what we have to do to execute. I think we’ve done a great job of coming out from the start and being ready. That’s something we’ve done well all year and something that we’ll keep doing.”

In the first round of the tournament, Maryland rallied to top Navy 59-44 despite the Midshipmen’s four-point lead at halftime. Maryland then snuck by seventh-seeded Louisville 72-68 in the second round after trailing by five points with six minutes left.

After Louisville, the Terrapins met up with the Aggies, who had an 18-point lead in the first half. Maryland caught up in the second half and used a 21-4 run in the final minutes of the game to dispose of Texas A&M and advance to a showdown with the Irish.

Notre Dame’s last loss, a 63-54 defeat at the hands of Connecticut in the Big East championship game March 6, is similar to one suffered by the 2001 national championship team, McGraw said.

“After a loss, it takes a couple games to figure out if you learned anything from it or not,” she said. “When you have a winning streak as we did going into that West Virginia game during the year, you don’t realize it kind of weighs on you a little bit. Sometimes when you lose, you almost get a fresh start. So I think coming out of the [Big East] tournament, we likened it to our championship year – we lost in the final of the Big East tournament, we came back and won the national championship.”

The Irish endured a difficult regular-season schedule, an experience Peters said prepares Notre Dame for some of the nation’s most talented squads in the tournament. 

“The Big East is like the tournament where any team can come out and beat you any day,” Peters said. “You have to treat every team like they’re Connecticut or Tennessee or one of the big-name teams. The Big East has definitely prepared us for where we are now, and they all have athletic players and work hard and I think that’s why we excelled.

“Our [preparedness] is a mix of that and how far we went last year, and having that experience definitely prepares you for games like this and being in these types of situations.”

The Irish tip off against the Terrapins with a coveted Final Four spot on the line Tuesday at 9 p.m. at PNC Arena in Raleigh, N.C. The game will be televised on ESPN.

Contact Molly Sammon at msammon@nd.edu