NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Brenda Frese and her Maryland Terrapins feel like uninvited guests at the Final Four.
And that's fine with the Terrapins coach.
Back in the national semifinals for the first time since winning the
championship in 2006, Maryland will try to spoil an unprecedented title
game when the Terrapins face undefeated Notre Dame on Sunday night.
Stanford plays unbeaten UConn in the other semifinal.
"Maryland and Stanford are the extras at the Miss USA pageant," Frese quipped. "Our job is to be able to crash the party."
While fourth-seeded Maryland (28-6) surprised many by reaching the
Final Four, Notre Dame has been on a roll all season. The Irish are two
wins away from the first undefeated season in school history and a
second national championship. Coach Muffet McGraw said her team tries to
focus on the next game and not making history, which has helped them
remain perfect this season.
"It's been easy," McGraw said of keeping her team focused. "The
easiest thing that we've had to do this year. Take it one game at a
time. the seniors have done a great job, making sure nobody is looking
ahead. We've been here before and we know we have a lot of work to do.
"You can't get to a national championship till you win the first game."
The Irish (36-0) are still dealing with the loss of senior leader
Natalie Achonwa, who suffered a torn ACL in the regional final victory
over Baylor on Monday night. Achonwa said the team dealt with her injury
well and is concentrating on the upcoming game.
"I think that we're just focusing on playing Maryland. We're focusing
on what are we going to do offensively and defensively right now it
happened," she said. "I tore my ACL. It happened and I think we're
looking beyond that, and what we're going to do to win tomorrow."
Achonwa was on the sidelines during the team's open practice leaning
on her crutches. She was shouting encouraging words to her teammates and
talking to freshman Taya Reimer, who will replace her in the starting
"Only advice I can give her is be Taya Reimer," Achonwa said. "She
doesn't have to be me. At the end of the day, she came to Notre Dame for
a reason. Coach McGraw recruited her because she's a great basketball
player and a great person. She just needs to go out and do that."
Even without their senior leader, the Irish have an experience
advantage over the Terrapins having advanced to the Final Four the last
four years. They are still looking for their first title since 2001.
"And I think for us, you know, it's more of a business trip," McGraw
said. "And we're enjoying it and I think we've enjoyed all the moments
that we've had this year, but I think there's so many distractions today
especially with the open practice, autograph signings and all those
things, that you need to make sure you're focused on the task at hand."
The two teams met back in January with the Irish coming away with an
87-83 victory. Notre Dame had a 22-point lead in that game before the
Terrapins rallied to take the lead in the second half before falling.
Both sides feel that the game becoming tight could benefit them.
"It really does," McGraw said. "Watching film, you get to see them at
their best. That's what you need. Going into a game like this, you want
to see what they do well. Alyssa Thomas was unstoppable. She was
phenomenal in the second half. She rebounded, she scored, she did
everything she wanted to do."
Thomas remembered how her team got off to a rough beginning.
"We did not come out to a good start," the senior All-American said. "
Once we settled down, we were able to get back into the game."
Thomas was thrilled to finally make the Final Four.
"I think the biggest thing is to experience this for my teammates,"
she said. "I've been saying it for the longest time. I just want them to
be here with me. I'm really excited that, finally get to be on the
playing side of the Final Four."