by Mike Potter
PNC ARENA/RALEIGH It’s supposed to be the best matchup in the NCAA Women’s Elite Eight this season.
Notre Dame’s semifinal contest on Sunday was a snoozer, a 79-35 romp over a St. Bonaventure team that didn’t seem ready for this level of prime time. And the Terps had eliminated defending tournament champion Texas A&M 81-74 after recovering from an 18-point deficit.
A classic Goliath vs. Goliath clone matchup, right?
Not exactly. Charismatic Irish point guard Skylar Diggins puts together her school’s first triple-double in 22 years, with game highs of 22 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds in an 80-49 romp that looks like a typographical error.
Just this once, it’s no contest.
The Irish take the lead for good at 10-8 on a pair of Natalie Novosel free throws with 14:05 left in the first half.
Soon afterwards they build a double-figure lead, running off 14 straight including nine from Diggins to make it 28-13 on two Kayla McBride free throws with 6:20 remaining in the period.
After trailing 40-21 at halftime, the Terps cut it to 17 on an Anjale Barrett layup with 19:27 to play but never make it any better. Notre Dame’s biggest lead is 74-42 with 7:14 to go.
Diggins is named the tournament MVP after putting together the third triple-double in school history and the first in 22 years. Natalie Achonwa, a 6-3 sophomore forward, comes off the bench for 18 points and seven rebounds for the shorter Irish, who get 16 points from McBride and 14 from Novosel.
Achonwa, McBride and Novosel join Diggins on the all-tournament team – which includes six players because of a tie vote – along with Maryland’s Alyssa Thomas and Texas A&M freshman guard Alexia Standish.
Thomas, who was ACC player of the year, leads No. 2 seed Maryland with 17 points while Tianna Hawkins and Alicia DeVaughn chip in 10 apiece. The defeat denies the ACC champion Terps’ dreams of returning to the Final Four for the first time since their 2006 championship.
Notre Dame shoots 49.2 percent to Maryland’s 39.3, wins the rebound battle by a whopping 46-27 and commits 17 turnovers to the Terps’ 21.
They said it …
Maryland coach Brenda Frese: “Obviously tonight was Notre Dame’s night. I thought they were spectacular. They really did a tremendous job on all ends of the floor. They beat us at our rebounding game and destroyed us on the glass. It was a difficult night for us to get into any kind of rhythm. I thought we looked tired.”
Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw: “I thought it was going to be a close game back-and-forth. I thought at the end, our leadership and experience would give us the edge. I thought we might get 10 points ahead, but I didn’t envision this. I’m amazed. Skylar managed the game, and to have a triple-double in a regional final is an amazing accomplishment.”
Diggins: “We came out with a chip on our shoulder. We wanted to let them know why we’re a No. 1 seed. We’re a No. 1 seed for a reason and we came out and dominated.”
Thomas: “They beat us at our own game tonight. They crashed the offensive boards hard and we weren’t boxing them out. They tightened up on the defensive end, they got steals, and capitalized on the offensive end. (Diggins) is a great player. Words can’t explain. We didn’t have an answer tonight.”
What does it all mean?
That the Irish are serious contenders for the NCAA championship, while Maryland picked a very bad night to play a very bad game.
Stars of the game
Play of the game
Diggins’ three-point play to make it 26-13.
Maryland: Lost 1.
Notre Dame: Won 4.
Maryland leads 4-2.
Notre Dame vs. Connecticut in Denver, April 1
Maryland in 2012-13 opener