GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Maryland coach Brenda Frese has made Elite Eight and Final Four appearances during her 21 years with the Terrapins.
But after a 76-59 win over Notre Dame on Saturday advanced her team to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2015, she freely admitted the run this year's team has made is one she will never forget.
A year ago, she was dealing with the loss of her father, Bill, and the prospect of having to remake her entire roster. Four starters entered the transfer portal after the season ended with a Sweet 16 loss. Frese got to work, using the transfer portal to her advantage.
Frese added nine players to her roster this year, including five transfers. All of them averaged more than 9 points at their previous schools. The result has been a team that has not only found an identity, but a competitiveness that has elevated them over the course of the season -- one that has helped rewrite narratives about a program with more than its fair share of NCAA tournament heartbreak.
"I was reflecting on it today, just what I felt like a year ago and to where we are today," Frese said. "This one is going to be one I'll remember for a really long time. It was no surprise last year, both personally and professionally, losing my dad, it was a really hard year. It was a locker room that was 'me' centered versus 'we' centered. When we had so many changes, you can tell from my family, they missed their mom, but their mom had to put her head down and go to work.
"So the competitive side came out that we had a roster to fill. When you're looking at a roster of eight players, it's daunting to have to fill the team."
But that is exactly what she did. Headed into Saturday, Maryland had won 27 games with the second-toughest schedule in the country. Frese said she knew she had something special with this team because of the way they handled losses -- specifically a 90-67 setback against Nebraska at home that felt uncharacteristic in many ways.
"We didn't lose a lot this year, but every time we lost, it dialed them in more, and their response off of losses were phenomenal to watch," Frese said.
Since a loss to Iowa in the Big Ten tournament this Terps team has found a way to respond. They had to against Notre Dame, which led at halftime because its zone defense made Maryland less aggressive than usual on offense.
But everything changed in the second half. Maryland flustered Notre Dame with its defense, forcing the Irish into a season-high 25 turnovers. Shyanne Sellers and Diamond Miller took over the game, combining to outscore Notre Dame in the second half (30 points to 27). In addition to that, the two combined to score or assist on 37 of the team's 45 second-half points.
"We were just more aggressive," Miller said. "The first half, they slowed us down. They did a great job by doing that. We had 31 points, so that's not how we want to play. The fact they were able to slow us down really affected my game and maybe Shy's, as well. But in the second half, when we started sprinting the floor, I think that really helped us and got us going into a pace that we like."
Miller has been a rock for Maryland. As the veteran leader, this was an especially gratifying win for her, the lone starter from a year ago to stay at Maryland.
"If I were to transfer, I would have played with a new group of girls; and if I stayed, I would have played with a new group of girls," Miller said. "When you look at it like that, I was like, 'I'm just going to stay and trust the process.' I'm so happy I did because I don't know what school I would have committed to, but would we be at the Elite Eight now? I don't know. But here we are."