Diamond Miller leaned her head against coach Brenda Frese’s shoulder after checking out of the game with less than a minute to go. It was a moment indicative of the relationship between a player who has embodied Maryland basketball over four years and the person who recruited her to leave New Jersey for College Park.
With No. 1 South Carolina (36-0) up by double-digits in the fourth, Miller exited the floor for possibly the last time as a Terp. She led her side with 24 points and tied for the team lead with five rebounds. But she couldn’t will her team to victory as she has done so many times before in No. 2-seed Maryland’s 86-75 loss to the tournament’s number one overall seed.
“Just how much I loved her,” Frese said of what she told Miller during their embrace. “How proud I was of her. Just thank you, it’s been an incredible journey that she trusted this coaching staff and to continue to be here in Maryland and had nothing to hang her head about. She left everything out there.”
Needing a near-flawless performance against the Gamecocks, Maryland (28-7) was undone by fouls and a sloppy second quarter.
Looking to appear in their first Final Four since 2015, the Terps battled foul trouble all night. Abby Meyers, who had 14 points and five rebounds, fouled out at 7:17 of the fourth and Faith Masonius followed three minutes later. Miller got called for a personal three minutes in, and Shyanne Sellers played just five minutes in the first half.
“It was unfortunate that I guess I put myself in that situation to have those fouls called against me,” Meyers said. “It’s just frustrating when that happens when you try and stay on the court to help the team, but you can only do so much.”
As a result of foul trouble — South Carolina got to the line 26 times — Frese went deep into her bench. Freshman guard Gia Cooke, who averages about six minutes a game, played five in the first half alone. The limited depth was exacerbated when Bri McDaniel, a regular member of the rotation, left in the second with an injury.
“You felt like you’re coaching with one arm behind your back,” Frese said. “You really had to kind of try to get a feel when they were calling so many [fouls], either kind of just juggling who you had on the bench and back and forth and kind of felt like that all game.”
But even with Sellers and Miller being relegated to the bench early, the Terps outscored the Gamecocks 9-2 in their absence and held a six-point advantage after the first 10 minutes.
Things, however, started to unravel in the second quarter, where the team was outscored 23-9, made four of 11 shots and missed all four of their free-throw attempts. As a result, the Terps went into the half down eight and never recovered the lead.
“I loved our first quarter,” Frese said. “I thought we were really confident. We had South Carolina on the back of their heels. I thought the game was lost in the second quarter. The foul trouble, the amount of times throughout the game that they were in the bonus really impacted our play.”
[Maryland women’s basketball soars to first Elite Eight since 2015, beats Notre Dame, 76-59]
Despite a valiant effort, Frese’s squad couldn’t shrink the gap in the fourth. The Gamecocks’ size and depth — eight players logged at least 10 minutes — overwhelmed the Terps late. Star forward Aliyah Boston finished with a 22-point, 10-rebound double-double, while Zia Cook and Brea Beal finished with 18 and 16 points, respectively.
South Carolina, which booked its third straight trip to the Final Four, where it will face No. 2-seed Iowa, outrebounded Maryland 48-26. The rebounding disparity led to 23 second-chance points for the Gamecocks, who also had 18 more offensive boards than the Terps.
Since losing in the South Eastern Conference title game last year, South Carolina has won 42 consecutive games and is looking to become the 10th undefeated champion. Heading into Monday’s affair, the Gamecocks hadn’t allowed more than 45 points in the tournament.
And for the 82nd consecutive time, they held their opponent under their season scoring average — Maryland scored four points less than their season average.
With the season over, Miller has a decision to make: declare for the WNBA Draft — she has 48 hours to do so — or use her final year of eligibility she received during covid and return to Maryland for a fifth season.
“Lucky for me, I have a lot of decisions to make this offseason, so should be fun. I’m just excited for whatever the future holds for me,” Miller said regarding her future plans.
A season ago, the Terps lost several high-impact players either to graduation or the transfer portal, but Frese rebuilt a squad that personifies the characteristic most important to one of the sport’s winningest coaches: hard work.
“They upheld the standard with so many question marks,” Frese said of her team. “Nobody expected this team to be anywhere near an Elite Eight. Some questioned whether they were even going to make the tournament. So … to finish it all with an Elite Eight, they put their own stamp and their own mark on the season.”