Notre Dame 48, Maryland 31
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Notre Dame leads Maryland 48-31 at halftime. A look at how the first half went down:
How the half was won: After some early jitters, Notre Dame played the kind of basketball that has the Irish perfect at 36-0. The offense did not miss a beat, even without Natalie Achonwa. More composed throughout, the Irish were able to get just about every shot they wanted, and the more physical Terrapins did not disrupt them at all. The big surprise came near the basket, where the Irish dominated on the glass, something even Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw could not have expected.
Player of the half: Kayla McBride. The senior All-American didn't force things early despite the pressure to produce with Achonwa out. She quickly became the linchpin to Notre Dame's attack. McBride made four of her first six shots, started and finished a number of Notre Dame fast breaks and finished the half with 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting.
Player of the half II: Brionna Jones. Playing in the biggest game of her life, the 6-foot-3 freshman was poised and delivered. With Notre Dame doubling Alyssa Thomas every time she caught the ball inside, Jones consistently got free underneath and scored 12 points, all on point-blank layups.
Turning point: Notre Dame led 23-21 in a fairly evenly played first half -- until right around the 8-minute timeout. McBride broke free for five quick points right after the stoppage, igniting a 10-0 Irish run that put Notre Dame in control the rest of the half.
Key stat: Notre Dame is missing its best inside presence and Maryland was the third-best rebounding team in the country this season, but the Irish won the battle of the boards 23-8, and were especially dominating on the glass in the very early moments. That prompted Maryland coach Brenda Frese to tell her team that she would play anyone who would rebound.
Three things Notre Dame has to do to win:
1. Keep the offense rolling. If the Irish keep playing offense like this, Maryland won't be able to get back into it. The first half was vintage Notre Dame offense, getting good shots and getting everyone involved. The Irish shot 54.1 percent from the field in the first half, including a late 3-pointer by Madison Cable, the Irish's only one of the half.
2. Get Jewell Loyd more involved. She had eight points, but was pretty quiet. If she breaks out, Notre Dame will continue to pull away.
3. Stay strong on the boards. Maryland is sure to address the rebounding discrepancy at the half. Frese will have her bigs in attack mode. Notre Dame will need to hold off what is sure to be an early push in the opening moments.
Three things Maryland has to do to win
1. Get on the glass. Maryland getting outrebounded by Notre Dame this badly is hard to believe, and the Terps could use some easy baskets and putbacks.
2. Let Thomas loose. When Maryland made its second-half comeback against Notre Dame in their regular-season meeting, it was fueled by Thomas, who had only five first-half points but took over after the break. She needs to find a way again.
3. Take care of the ball. It plagued the Terrapins in the regionals and it has hurt them again tonight. The Terps turned it over nine times. That, combined with poor rebounding, accounted for Maryland getting 10 fewer shots than Notre Dame.
NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
UConn beat Notre Dame 79-58 to cap a 40-0 season to win it second consecutive NCAA title and record ninth championship overall.