Notre Dame's pipes burst and dam collapses in Sweet 16 loss to Maryland

Foul trouble, lack of bench depth dooms Irish in Greenville, S.C.

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent

Those late-winter injuries to All-American Olivia Miles and sharpshooter Dara Mabrey had steadfastly pounded the pipes, bent the branches and disturbed the dam on Notre Dame’s season.

On Saturday — after the Irish managed to hold on tight against that storm of misfortune well into the third quarter — the ability of Maryland and ND’s foul trouble conspired to finish the job as those pipes burst, the bough broke and the dam collapsed into one unsightly mess.

The second-seeded and seventh-ranked Terrapins pulled away from a 44-44 deadlock to eliminate the third-seeded and 10th-ranked Irish 76-59 in the teams’ Sweet 16 women’s basketball matchup at Greenville, S.C.

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Notre Dame guard KK Bransford (14) runs by Maryland guard Elisa Pinzan (12) during the first quarter of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, S.C. Saturday, March 25, 2023.

“Just really disheartening,” ND coach Niele Ivey said after the Irish closed 27-6 with their second straight advancement into the NCAA Tourament’s third round.

“But what I’m most proud of as their coach,” Ivey added, “is just where we are at this moment with everything that we had to go through, the toughness, the resilience that I felt like I’ve seen in this team, the growth of this group. … We’re going to come back a stronger, better team because of this.”

With All-American Diamond Miller scoring 14 of her 18 points in the second half and sophomore sensation Shyanne Sellers adding 16 of her 18 after the break to go with a game-high eight assists, the Terrapins (28-6) advanced to Monday night’s Greenville Regional 1 final against top-ranked South Carolina (35-0).

Sonia Citron led the Irish with 14 points and all players with seven rebounds.

Maddy Westbeld added nine points, but she, Lauren Ebo and Kylee Watson all had their aggressiveness and court time stymied by foul issues. Westbeld and Ebo eventually fouled out.

KK Bransford, in a career-high 40 minutes, dished a career-high seven assists for ND, while she, fellow freshman Cass Prosper and Watson netted eight points apiece. Prosper, in a career-high 36 minutes, added both her team’s blocked shots.

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► Without Miles, who suffered her season-ending knee injury four weeks ago, and without Mabrey, who was ND’s second option as a ball-handler before her season-ending knee injury Jan. 22, the Irish labored all afternoon to solve Maryland’s hawking defense.

ND committed a season-high 25 turnovers, more than double the Terps’ 12, with those figures leading to a 22-12 Maryland advantage in points off cough-ups.

“We talked about making them feel that pressure,” Sellers said. “With any team, we want them to feel our pressure. Making them feel uncomfortable is what we try to do, and that’s exactly what we did. We knew they were a little bit on their heels without a point guard.”

Miller and Abby Meyers made four steals each, and Sellers another three as the Terps piled up 15, matching the most anybody’s had against the Irish this season.

Westbeld and Prosper committed five turnovers each for ND, while Citron and Bransford were charged with four apiece.

Maryland's Lavender Briggs, right, fights for the ball with Notre Dame's Sonia Citron (11) in the second half of a Sweet 16 college basketball game of the NCAA Tournament in Greenville, S.C., Saturday, March 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)

“I never thought I’d be playing the point (before the injury to Miles),” Citron said. “I’m sure Maddy never thought she’d be playing basically a 2 or 3 guard. But I think through all of that, we learned so much. So I think you can look on the positive side, and next year we will all just have so much experience because of the situations we were put in.”

► The Irish stayed close much of the way, with Prosper’s two free throws forging that 44-44 tie at 4:31 remaining in the third quarter, but the game went haywire from there against a Maryland club that’s been blistering hot lately.

Lavender Briggs’ left-corner 3-pointer ignited a 16-1 Terrapin spree, good for a 61-45 lead by the 8:52 mark of the fourth period.

The Terps proceeded to stretch the margin to as much as 22 points four times over the final four minutes before ND tallied the game’s final five points.

The Irish had led by highs of six twice in the second quarter and 32-31 at halftime, before Maryland ruled the third quarter 26-13.

“I thought our defense kind of let up a little bit,” Terrapin coach Brenda Frese said of the second period, “so a terrific response. … I thought that the aggressiveness we needed to have from (Miller, Sellers and Bri McDaniel), Bri came in and didn’t present like a freshman. She was really, really good. (We had) just a different mentality, I thought, in that third quarter.”

Maryland improved to 15-2 in its last 17 games — with both losses coming against No. 3-ranked Iowa sandwiched around a lopsided win over the Hawkeyes.

► Often going with a three-big look, the Irish were hopeful of doing damage on the Terrapins inside, but it didn’t work quite as envisioned, especially given the foul trouble ND had to navigate.

The Irish did win the fight for paint points, 34-24, and did take the board battle, 37-29, but couldn’t cash most of their second chances.

In fact, almost inexplicably, Maryland outscored ND 12-2 in putback points despite the Irish finishing with 16 offensive rebounds to the Terps’ 12.

The foul issues that Westbeld, Ebo and Watson were saddled with worked against wearing Maryland down.

A few of those fouls may have been iffy, too, given replays and reactions.

“We definitely had to be more careful going into (the second half),” Westbeld said of defending while in foul trouble. “It was unfortunate we were in that situation to begin with, but I think we definitely had to change the game plan based on that. … It was pretty tough, but at the end of the day, we just weren’t as tough as we should have been on the boards.”

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Maryland's Diamond Miller (1) drives to the basket as Notre Dame's Maddy Westbeld (22) and Cassandre Prosper (4) defend in the first half of a Sweet 16 college basketball game of the NCAA Tournament in Greenville, S.C., Saturday, March 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)

Westbeld was whistled for her third foul at the 2:28 mark of the second quarter, with ND leading 29-23. She sat out the rest of the half, which the Terps won 8-3.

Westbeld’s fourth came in the opening minute of the final quarter, and she fouled out with 4:04 remaining.

Watson was called for her fourth at 5:48 showing in the third period and ND down 40-38. She sat the rest of that quarter, with the Irish falling behind 57-45.

Ebo’s fourth came at 3:23 left in the third and her team behind 49-44. ND trailed 63-47 by the time she returned at 7:33 left in the fourth.

Looking ahead

The Irish lose just Ebo and Mabrey to expiring eligibility.

They’re adding a pair of high school All-American guards in Hannah Hidalgo and Emma Risch — rated No. 5 and No. 20 nationally by ESPN — and they could dip into the transfer portal again, where Ivey has struck post-player gold with Maya Dodson and Ebo over the last two years.

Of the scholarship players scheduled to return — some with timetables extended by the 2020-21 pandemic-related rules — here’s the number of seasons each has left barring further adjustments for circumstances:

Bransford and Prosper three apiece; Miles, Citron, Westbeld, Watson and Nat Marshall two each; and Jenna Brown one.

Maryland 76, Notre Dame 59

NOTRE DAME (27-6): Ebo 2-3 3-4 7, Watson 4-6 0-0 8, Westbeld 4-6 0-0 9, Bransford 4-11 0-2 8, Citron 5-13 4-6 14, Brown 1-2 0-0 3, Prosper 3-9 2-2 8, Marshall 1-4 0-0 2, Totals 24-54 9-14 59

MARYLAND (28-6): Masonius 2-5 0-0 4, Meyers 4-7 2-2 11, Miller 6-17 5-7 18, Pinzan 0-1 0-0 0, Sellers 5-11 8-9 18, Alexander 3-6 0-0 8, Briggs 5-9 0-0 12, Cooke 0-1 0-0 0, McDaniel 1-4 3-4 5, Reynolds 0-0 0-0 0, Sciolla 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 26-61 18-22 76

Notre Dame14181314— 59
Maryland16152619— 76

3-Point Goals_Notre Dame 2-10 (Westbeld 1-2, Citron 0-4, Brown 1-1, Prosper 0-3), Maryland 6-17 (Meyers 1-3, Miller 1-3, Pinzan 0-1, Alexander 2-5, Briggs 2-4, McDaniel 0-1). Assists_Notre Dame 19 (Bransford 7), Maryland 17 (Sellers 8). Fouled Out_Notre Dame Ebo, Westbeld. Rebounds_Notre Dame 37 (Citron 7), Maryland 29 (Miller 5, Sellers 5). Total Fouls_Notre Dame 21, Maryland 16. Technical Fouls_None. A_0.