Terps Embracing Underdog Role vs Irish

The Terps prepare to face the #1 seed Notre Dame Fighting Irish tonight in an Elite Eight matchup.

When the Maryland Terrapins take on the No. 1 seed Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Elite Eight Tuesday night, they will be playing against a higher seed for the first time this tournament. And that is something that's just fine with the Terps.

Really no one expected us to be here, but some people are calling us the favorite. I'm not really sure where that's coming from,” said Maryland Head Coach Brenda Frese. “Maryland really hasn't been in the national conversation all year; it has just been the same four or five teams.”

But with a trip to the Final Four on the line, the Terrapins are ready to take on anyone, including a Notre Dame team that is 33-3 and has been ranked as high as No. 2 this season. The Irish are coming off of a Sweet 16 win in which they dominated No. 5 seed St. Bonaventure, 79-35.

“It's going to be a very difficult matchup for us since Notre Dame has four future professional players on its roster,” said Frese. “They have been here before and have done it, as evidenced by their appearance in the national title game last year.”

The Irish are led by junior point guard Skylar Diggins, the Big East Player of the Year, who averages 16.6 points per game and shoots 50% from the floor.

“We know [Diggins] is a good player and she likes to get her team involved. She likes to get to the basket,” said Anjale Barrett. “So we just have to make it difficult for her with more pressure and team defense.”

Yet Notre Dame's offensive power doesn't stop at Diggins. Guard Natalie Novosel averages 15.3 points per game, while forward Devereaux Peters averages 11.9 points and 9.4 rebounds. Guard Kayla McBride also chips in 11.6 points a game. As a team, the Irish shoot 47.3% from the floor and 34.8% from three.

One area the Terps have a big advantage on the Irish is in size. Notre Dame starts four guards, all less than six feet tall, while Maryland starts four players who are at least six feet. The height differential could prove to be the difference the Terps need to stay with the Irish.

“As good as Notre Dame is, we want to play to our strengths, which are rebounding the basketball and getting out in transition,” said Frese.

Alyssa Thomas noted that her teams' length would help on the defensive end as well.

“We'll use our length to get on the glass. We know that gives a lot of teams trouble,” she said. “We're able to use our length on defense to create a lot of havoc.”

After losing in last year's national title game, the Irish appear to be a team on a mission, determined to get back there. But the Terps believe that they will be able to match Notre Dame's emotion.

“We're just going to bring it right back at them,” said Laurin Mincy. “We have to play with a lot of energy and play like we have a chip on our shoulder, too.”

Frese said her team has had to work harder for their wins this tournament compared to when they won it all in 2006, but feels it has only helped them get better.

“I think it's been great to have such a competitive conference throughout the season and to have played in some tight games this tournament,” she said. “We feel like we can compete against anyone every time we step out on the floor.”

Maryland and Notre Dame will play in the final Elite Eight match-up Tuesday night and will tip-off at 9 p.m. With no one on the roster who has advanced past this stage, the Terps will be looking for their own shot at history.

“This game could be one of the greatest in the history of the Elite Eight and putting someone in the Final Four,” said Frese. “We're going to play our hearts out for 40 minutes and be 12 players strong so we can have a chance to go to Denver.”

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