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NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen: Maryland Terrapins outlast Notre Dame Fighting Irish, South Carolina Gamecocks overwhelm UCLA Bruins

The South Carolina Gamecocks remained perfect in their quest for back-to-back championships, sending the UCLA Bruins home in the Sweet Sixteen with a trademark defensive-minded win. They’ll advance to play the Maryland Terrapins, who outlasted a shorthanded Notre Dame Fighting Irish squad to punch their own ticket to the Elite Eight.

UCLA v South Carolina
The South Carolina Gamecocks remain undefeated after the Sweet Sixteen, advancing to take on the Maryland Terrapins in the next round.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Greenville 1 region of the 2023 Women’s NCAA Tournament is now down to just two teams, with the Maryland Terrapins and South Carolina Gamecocks emerging victorious in the region’s Sweet Sixteen matchups. Here are our recaps of the region’s games from Sunday, March 25.

No. 2 seed Maryland Terrapins over No. 3 seed Notre Dame Fighting Irish, 76-59

Notre Dame v Maryland
Maryland’s Shyanne Sellers (left) and Diamond Miller fueled the Terrapins’ trademark uptempo attack, leading their team past Notre Dame and to the Elite Eight.
Photo by Grant Halverson/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Saturday’s morning matchup featured two teams with contrasting styles of play — though maybe not entirely by design.

The Terrapins, as fans have come to expect in recent seasons, got to the Sweet Sixteen with a roster full of skilled, athletic perimeter players that emphasizes pace and transition play in lieu of relying on a traditional low-post scoring threat. The Irish, on the other hand, have been particularly reliant on their frontcourt as of late, having lost starting guards Olivia Miles and Dara Mabrey to season-ending knee injuries; they’d have to slow the game down in order to hang with the higher seed.

This battle of speed vs. size started as a back-and-forth affair, with Maryland’s fullcourt press forcing several early Notre Dame turnovers while the Irish’s advantage on the glass kept the Terrapins from maintaining that momentum. With a shorthanded roster, ACC Coach of the Year Niele Ivey’s options for in-game adjustments were limited compared to those of Maryland’s Brenda Frese, though Notre Dame’s switching of man-to-man and zone defenses kept Maryland’s potent offense from getting into a rhythm in the halfcourt for much of the first half. After 20 minutes, Notre Dame led Maryland by the slimmest of margins, 32-31.

In the second half, however, the Terrapins’ depth began to wear on their opponents. Foul trouble put Irish starting bigs Lauren Ebo and Maddy Westbeld on the bench for extensive stretches, and without enough reliable ballhandlers to deal with Maryland’s fullcourt press, the Irish were unable to take good enough care of the basketball to match the Terrapins’ own offense. Maryland stars Diamond Miller and Shyanne Sellers came alive after struggling in the first half, scoring 18 points apiece in the game and totaling seven steals and three blocked shots between them. As a team, the Irish turned the ball over 25 times, 15 of those turnovers coming on Maryland steals.

“It’s a relief,” commented Miller after the game, alluding to Maryland advancing to the Elite Eight after failing to make it out of the Sweet Sixteen in both the 2021 and 2022 NCAA Tournaments. Miller, who will likely hear her name called very early in the 2023 WNBA Draft if she decides not to use her COVID-19 eligibility to return for another season at Maryland, now has a chance to make history with the Terrapins as they move on to face the Greenville 1 region’s top-seeded team — and hands-down favorite to win this year’s national championship.

No. 1 seed South Carolina Gamecocks over No. 4 UCLA Bruins, 59-43

UCLA v South Carolina
Aliyah Boston led South Carolina in rebounding (14) as the Gamecocks’ usual advantage in the frontcourt once again powered them past UCLA.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Gamecocks entered the 2023 NCAA Tournament as the nation’s lone undefeated team, and have understandably been viewed as favorites to repeat their successes from last year and repeat as national champions.

The Gamecocks’ Sweet Sixteen opponent, the Bruins, were one of the few teams to give South Carolina issues during the 2022-23 regular season. During a non-conference matchup on Nov. 29, UCLA led South Carolina by as many as 10 points and remained within striking distance even after relinquishing that lead in the fourth quarter. The Gamecocks eventually pulled away to win 73-64, but if UCLA competed similarly during their Sweet Sixteen rematch, it wouldn’t have been a surprise.

Early in Sunday’s game, though, the Gamecocks showed once again why they’ve been an impossible puzzle to solve, leaning on their significant size advantage in the frontcourt and physicality on the perimeter to stifle UCLA’s offense. In typical South Carolina fashion, the Gamecocks were patient with the basketball and relentless everywhere else; a pair of Brea Beal 3-pointers were exclamation points on what was otherwise a battle in the paint, one that South Carolina won handily.

To the Bruins’ credit, they did not let a 25-15 halftime deficit deter them, but there was only so much their undersized frontcourt could do against the amount of height on the Gamecocks’ roster. As has been the case in just about every South Carolina game this season, the Gamecocks’ frontcourt rotation of Aliyah Boston, Victaria Saxton, Kamilla Cardoso and Laeticia Amihere wore out their opponents, with head coach Dawn Staley even opting to keep three of the four on the court at times. This all but ensured that South Carolina out-rebounded UCLA (42-34), and while the Gamecocks’ halfcourt offense didn’t play at its usual high level, it was still more than enough to get them past what little UCLA could muster.

The final numbers were not pretty: The Bruins shot just 29.4 percent from the field, and South Carolina shot 38.1 percent. The two teams combined to shoot 17-of-25 from the free throw line, committed 25 total turnovers and had three total quarters in which they did not break double-digit scoring.

It’s March, though, and the aesthetics of a win are not nearly as important as the win itself. For Staley and her squad, they’ll gladly improve to 35-0 as they prepare to take on Maryland — another non-conference foe they beat in the regular season — in the Elite Eight.