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ND Women’s Basketball

Irish ready for high-stakes rematch against Maryland in Sweet 16

| Friday, March 24, 2023

Triumph was in the air Sunday afternoon after the final buzzer sounded. Notre Dame had not only just knocked off Mississippi State in a 53-48 nail-biter to reach their second straight Sweet 16, but also chalked up yet another victory at Purcell Pavilion. Winning in South Bend has almost felt like a guarantee ever since the Niele Ivey era fully established itself last season. The Irish have played 31 home games over the last two seasons, winning 28 of them. They have beaten some of the country’s best programs like N.C. State and UConn on their home floor during that span. They have been, for the most part, completely dominant.

That level of excellence makes the feelings surrounding those other three home games stand out even more. And it just so happens that one of the teams responsible for those defeats is the one that moved into a matchup with Notre Dame just hours after the Irish beat the Bulldogs. That team would be Maryland, the No. 2 seed in the Greenville 1 Region. The Terrapins were the No. 20 team in the country back on Dec. 1 when they upset the Irish, 74-72, on a buzzer-beating jumper by second-team All-American Diamond Miller.

Both teams are different from what they were 113 days ago. The Terrapins used that victory over Notre Dame to vault from very good to elite status. Their No. 2 seed is proof of that. Just 10 days after beating the Irish, Maryland took down UConn, one of five wins against top 25 teams they have notched since leaving South Bend. Maryland notched convincing victories in each of its two games of the NCAA Tournament. The Terrapins thrashed Holy Cross 93-61 in their tournament opener, then kept Arizona at arm’s length in the Round of 32, winning 77-64. They too are looking for Sweet 16 revenge after falling at this stage to No. 1-seeded Stanford last year by just six points.

Maryland’s offense is its hallmark, with the team’s 79.4 points per game ranked ninth in the country. Miller is the anchor, averaging just under 20 points a night while also leading the team with 6.5 rebounds per contest. Abby Meyers and Shyanne Sellers are not far behind, both averaging double-figure points, while Sellers leads the team in assists. Meyers, Brinae Alexander and Lavender Briggs all shoot threes at 37% or better. And all seven members of Maryland’s rotation are at least 72% from the line. That could be crucial if the game is hanging in the balance in the closing minutes.

The Irish have changed a lot over the last few months as well. Not all of those differences are optimal. Sophomore guard Olivia Miles and graduate student guard Dara Mabrey combined for 21 points and nine assists the first time these two teams met. They will combine for zero points, assists and anything else in Saturday’s rematch, with both having ended their seasons prematurely due to injuries. Their losses are substantial ones. But the Irish have proved capable of overcoming them through the opening weekend of March Madness.

A reliance on defense and play in the paint has been at the forefront of Notre Dame’s March success. The former set the tone by shutting out Southern Utah for nearly half of the first quarter on Friday. That allowed the Irish to build up a 16-0 lead that was never cut down to even single digits. They held a Mississippi State team averaging over 71 points a game to just 48, its second-lowest output of the season. The return of graduate student center Lauren Ebo has come at the right time, with Ebo helping the Irish to an 80-36 edge in points in the paint last weekend. She also accounted for two of Notre Dame’s four individual double-digit rebound showings. Freshman guard Cassandre Prosper and junior forward Maddy Westbeld were responsible for the others.

Look for sophomore guard Sonia Citron to play a pivotal role as well. Citron is quickly establishing herself as a player who thrives in big games, tallying 14 or more points in three of her five career NCAA Tournament games, including both this year. She led the Irish with 14 points against Mississippi State. Her basketball intelligence was on full display against the Bulldogs, with Citron also notching four steals and drawing a game-high nine fouls. Oh, and she also led the Irish in both points (24) and rebounds (10) in their December clash with Maryland.

It will take a full team effort for the Irish to prevail Saturday, however. Notre Dame looked outclassed in its lone game against a team still alive in March Madness (Louisville) since losing Miles. Maryland has won nine of its last 10, with a five-point loss in the Big Ten Tournament to championship contender Iowa their lone blemish. Despite all of the adversity they have faced, this is a moment the Irish have been preparing for since last March. Sunday will be the one-year anniversary of their heartbreaking 66-63 season-ending loss to N.C. State in last year’s tournament. The Irish will know by then whether or not everything they did to improve on that result was enough to get the job done this time.

The Irish and Terrapins will tip off Saturday morning at 11:30 a.m. in Greenville, South Carolina. The game will be available to watch on ESPN. The victor will face the winner of the region’s No. 1 and No. 4 seeds, South Carolina and UCLA, respectively.

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About Andrew McGuinness

Andrew McGuinness is a senior in Siegfried Hall and Sports Editor of The Observer. He is from Haddonfield, New Jersey, and loves all of his Philly sports teams, even if they don't always love him back. Reach out below or on Twitter (@_AndrewMcG) to talk sports or TV shows, especially if they're Stranger Things, Survivor, Abbott Elementary or/and Severance.

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