- Charlie Creme, Women's College Basketball
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Notre Dame beat Maryland 87-61 on Sunday in the Final Four to advance to Tuesday's national championship game. A look at how the Irish remained unbeaten to improve to 37-0.
How the game was won: Once Notre Dame found its rhythm, it was the execution-machine that Muffet McGraw's teams have so often been over the past few seasons. Maryland's advantage was supposed to be that the Terps were more physical and could get the best of the Irish on the boards, especially without Natalie Achonwa, who suffered a torn ACL in Notre Dame's Elite Eight victory. Sunday's game went the other way completely. Notre Dame held a huge rebounding advantage and didn't allow Maryland anywhere near the offensive glass. As the game reached the 8-minute mark with Notre Dame up 72-48 on the scoreboard, Maryland had just two offensive rebounds.
Player of the game: Notre Dame's Kayla McBride. The senior All-American played just like one. She was dialed in and confident from the opening tip, yet at the same time didn't force anything even with the lost production of Achonwa. McBride's 28 points were three short of a career high and easily the best she has ever played at the Final Four. In her three previous appearances, McBride averaged 11.7 points on 27 percent shooting. Sunday, she made 12-of-21 field goal attempts.
Player of the game II: Jewell Loyd led the way for Notre Dame in the regionals. Sunday, it was McBride's turn, but Loyd still had an effective game. Her 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting were key, but quiet, except one Jewelly-oop on a pass from Taya Reimer midway through the first half. On Notre Dame's first possession of the second half, she rebounded a McBride miss and scored. That immediately put Maryland on its heels and the Terps stayed there the entire first half.
Player of the game III: Markisha Wright and Taya Reimer. It's worth putting the two together because of the job they did as tag-team replacing Achonwa. The junior Wright and freshman Reimer, who started in Achonwa's spot, combined for 21 points and 14 rebounds. Notre Dame would have been hard-pressed to get that kind of production from Achonwa alone.
Turning point: Maryland and Notre Dame were trading buckets in an evenly played first half until the teams came back from the 8-minute timeout. McBride made a layup right after the break and then went coast-to-coast for another layup plus a foul. The three-point play was the key in a 10-0 run that took Notre Dame from a 23-21 lead to being in complete control. The run was capped by a perfectly executed pick-and-roll layup from freshman-to-freshman, Lindsay Allen to Taya Reimer. Maryland was never within single digits again.
Stat of the game: The rebounding column was just shocking. Notre Dame 50, Maryland 21. This was supposed to be the one area the Terrapins could win with their size and physicality. Instead, the third-best rebounding team in the country this season got pushed around, got no easy baskets and gave up a bunch. Notre Dame had 20 second-chance points and held a 42-28 advantage in points in the paint.
Stat of the game II: Notre Dame led 48-31 at the half and Maryland senior All-American Alyssa Thomas had been quiet in the opening 20 minutes. She needed to get out to a fast start if Maryland was going to come back like it did the first time these two met back in January. Instead, Thomas didn't attempt a shot for the first 6&12frac; minutes after halftime and Maryland never made a run. It was a frustrating night for the three-time ACC Player of the Year. Thomas was just 5-for-13 from the field and finished with 14 points and six rebounds. Her second shot of the second half, at the 13:13 mark, was an air ball, essentially summing up the last game of her college career. Thomas left with 1:33 remaining -- with some tears and the same frustrated look that she wore most of the night.
X factor: The biggest factor in the game was the rebounding. Notre Dame completely flipped the switch on what Maryland does best. That went along with the Irish's ability to control Thomas. She was doubled teamed for much of the game and couldn't get to the glass. Notre Dame was more aggressive from the outset and had more answers than the Terps. Without Thomas excelling and the ability for its young players to get some easy baskets off misses, Maryland was doomed.