RALEIGH, N.C. — Maryland couldn’t have asked for a much sweeter scenario than the Terrapins pieced together Sunday at PNC Arena.
The Terps recovered seemingly from the dead not once but twice in the semifinals of the Raleigh Regional, pulling away from defending national champion Texas A&M in the last minute to win 81-74.
The victory advanced No. 2 seed Maryland (31-4) to Tuesday night’s 9 p.m. final against regional No. 1 seed Notre Dame (33-3), with the survivor advancing to the NCAA Women’s Final Four in Denver.
Texas A&M, the No. 3 seed in a loaded regional bracket that included three former NCAA champions, finished 24-11.
Laurin Mincy and Alyssa Thomas led the ACC champions with 21 points apiece, with the 6-foot sophomore guard Mincy hauling in a career-high 12 rebounds. Lynetta Kizer came off the bench for 15 points and Tianna Hawkins added 12, Hawkins leaving the game for good after taking a hard foul from Kelsey Bone with 7:38 to go.
“This one was obviously extremely special and filled with a lot of Maryland magic,” said Terps coach Brenda Frese, who added that Hawkins’ injury wasn’t serious and that she should be fine for Monday’s practice. “For our team we have had so many games where we’ve been battle-tested like today, but obviously not on a stage like this in the NCAA tournament.
“When you battle teams in the conference and have to come behind like when we were down 20 to Georgia Tech [in a 77-74 win in College Park on Jan. 6], this team knows and has the confidence we can come back against anyone.”
Freshman guard Alexia Standish led the Aggies with 19 points, and Sydney Carter added 13. Bone chipped in 10 points, and Skylar Collins and Karla Gilbert each added 10 off the bench.
“This was the best Sweet 16 game played so far in the tournament,” A&M coach Gary Blair said. “You saw two teams that were very balanced…. The difference in the game was Maryland’s offensive rebounding and our turnovers at the end.”
Maryland shot 48.4 percent to 43.8 for A&M, which shot just 34.5 in the second half. The Terps won the rebound battle 42-30, committing 18 turnovers to the Aggies’ 14.
Mincy had 10 defensive rebounds, the same number as the A&M’s offensive rebounds.
“We knew getting on the boards was going to win us the game,” Mincy said. “We just focused on getting on the boards. …We’re just 12 strong and coach told us to keep fighting. Our senior, Lynetta, personally told us to keep playing, keep playing hard and we all believed in it.”
A&M dominated most of the first half, leading 36-18 on a Standish layup with 7:10 left in the period. But the Terps stormed back, cutting the margin to 44-41 on a Hawkins bucket with 29 seconds left in the period.
“I think when we were down 18, what was playing in my mind was I didn’t want this to be my last game,” Kizer said. “That was honestly all I could keep thinking. They kept telling us to board and kept telling us to defend.”
Things looked great for Maryland when Thomas cut its deficit to 44-43 on a short Thomas jumper at 19:21, but then the Aggies were off to the races again. A&M again led 60-48 on a Tyra White layup with 13:54 to go.
“It doesn’t matter how much we’re down, we’re going to give it our all for 40 minutes no matter what the score is,” Thomas said.
The Terps recovered to take their first lead of the second half at 73-72 on a Brene Moseley jumper at 4:07, then led for good following a Kizer layup at 3:29 that started their 8-0 final run.