No break for Terps with Ir­ish up next

The Washington Times Daily - - Sports - BY MIKE POT­TER

RALEIGH, N.C. | Mary­land is just one step away from its fourth trip to the NCAA women’s Final Four, but the task gets even tougher Tues­day night.

Two days af­ter knock­ing off de­fend­ing NCAA cham­pion Texas A&M 81-74 at the end of a long come­back, the No. 2 seed Terps (31-4) will take on the team the Ag­gies beat for the ti­tle last sea­son when they play No. 1 seed Notre Dame (33-3) for the cham­pi­onship of the Raleigh Re­gional at 9 p.m. at PNC Arena.

It’s sim­i­lar to the sce­nar­ios play­ing out else­where, as for the first time since 2008 the top two seeds made each of the four re­gional ti­tle games.

Mary­land, which won its only NCAA ti­tle in 2006 un­der Brenda Frese while Notre Dame was the 2001 cham­pion un­der cur­rent coach Muf­fet Mcgraw, leads the all-time se­ries with the Ir­ish 4-1. The Terps are ranked No. 5 in the lat­est As­so­ci­ated Press poll while Notre Dame is No. 4.

The Terps also were here for the re­gional in 2009 when the build­ing was called RBC Cen­ter, los­ing the ti­tle game to Louisville 77-60.

“Notre Dame does a great job both of­fen­sively and de­fen­sively,” Frese said. “They know how to make good teams look re­ally bad with their style of play. It’s go­ing to be a very dif­fi­cult matchup for us since Notre Dame has four fu­ture pro­fes­sional play­ers on its ros­ter, and that’s a for­mula that gives you a great chance to win a na­tional cham­pi­onship.”

The 5-foot-9 ju­nior point guard Sky­lar Dig­gins, who has a glam­our-girl im­age and more than 160,000 fol­low­ers on Twit­ter, leads the Ir­ish’s four-guard of­fense with 16.6 points and 5.7 as­sists per game, fol­lowed by 5-11 se­nior Natalie Novosel (15.3, 4.0 re­bounds), 6-2 se­nior for­ward Dev­ereaux Peters (11.9, 9.4) and 5-11 sopho­more Kayla Mcbride (11.6, 4.6).

Mcgraw, whose team an­ni­hi­lated No. 5 seed St. Bon­aven­ture 79-35 on Sun­day by hold­ing the Bon­nies to 18.2 per­cent shoot­ing from the floor, said the Terps’ ver­sa­tile and tal­ented lineup also presents a tough chal­lenge.

“It’s im­pos­si­ble to sim­u­late a player like Alyssa Thomas in prac­tice,” Mcgraw said. “She’s so hard to guard be­cause she is so long and has a lot of guard skills. She drives the lane hard and helps them break the press. [And] I be­lieve there’s al­ways an ad­van­tage in play­ing as the un­der­dog. Go­ing into the Ten­nessee game last year [a 73-59 win in the re­gional final in Day­ton] we weren’t ex­pected to win at all. Mary­land is not quite the un­der­dog we were last sea­son, and a lot of peo­ple are ex­pect­ing them to win.”

Of course, it’s go­ing to be a bat­tle of strength on strength, as ACC Player of the Year and 6-2 sopho­more wing Thomas (17.2, 8.0) paces the Terps fol­lowed by 6foot sopho­more guard Lau­rin Mincy (13.4, 4.5), 6-3 ju­nior for­ward Tianna Hawkins (12.1, 9.2) and 6-4 se­nior cen­ter Lynetta Kizer (11.2, 5.6) who was the ACC’S Sixth Player of the Year.

Mincy, who led the Terps with 24 points in the sec­ond-round win over Louisville and had 21 points and a game­high 12 re­bounds against the Ag­gies, seems to have saved some of her best bas­ket­ball for the tour­na­ment.

“Notre Dame’s de­fense is re­ally on the ball,” Mincy said. “They like to reach in, and they’re re­ally scrappy. We’re go­ing to have to take care of the ball and be strong when we at­tack the rim.”

Mary­land’s start­ing lineup will av­er­age over 6-1 to the Ir­ish’s 5-11 be­fore Kizer even comes off the bench.

“We will use our length to get on the glass, and we know that gives a lot of teams trou­ble,” Thomas said. “We’re able to use our length on de­fense to cre­ate a lot of havoc. We know it’s go­ing to be a very phys­i­cal game. Notre Dame is a phys­i­cal team in gen­eral. We’re go­ing to come out and take the hits and give it back to them.”

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