COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — Diamond Miller and Maryland may be peaking at the right time.
At the very least, the Terrapins are showing why they were ranked in the top five at the beginning of the season — and what a threat they are if their key players are indeed healthy now.
Miller scored 24 points, and fourth-seeded Maryland used a 19-0 run spanning parts of both halves to pull away to an 89-65 win over 12th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast on Sunday. Angel Reese added 21 points and Ashley Osusu scored 20 for the Terrapins, who advanced to the Sweet 16 for the 10th time under coach Brenda Frese.
Maryland (23-8) faces either Stanford or Kansas in the next round. The Terps were ranked fourth in the nation at the start of the season, but injuries and lack of depth kept them from reaching that potential. There’s still time.
“We’re thriving right in the right moments,” Miller said. “We’re all 100% healthy, and this is how we are expected to play. We’re not expected to play no other way. So this is what you all have been waiting for.”
Kendall Spray scored 17 points in the first half but none in the second for FGCU, and the Eagles (30-3) couldn’t follow their first-round win over Virginia Tech with another victory.
Spray, who is fourth on the career list for 3-pointers, made five in the first half for FGCU, but the Terrapins withstood that. After a 3-pointer by Spray put the Eagles up by three, Maryland ran off the final 11 points of the half to lead 47-39.
Miller then made a layup to start the second half and put Maryland up by 10. Her putback made it 53-39, and Reese capped the run with a couple free throws.
“Just incredibly proud and so happy for this group. It has not been an easy year by any stretch,” Frese said. “Just the way we fought, I mean, especially in both these games, but against a really, really good Florida Gulf Coast team. I knew coming in this was going to be a difficult scout, obviously them being underseeded.”
The undersized Eagles brought a distinctive style to this tournament, relying heavily on 3-pointers and using good spacing to open up the lane for occasional 2s. The Terrapins, however, were athletic enough to defend all of it, and Maryland is comfortable playing an up-tempo style despite not being all that deep.
“They had really good ball pressure, and they switch a lot of things,” FGCU coach Karl Smesko said. “They have great length at a lot of positions.”
Miller, who missed extensive time early this season because of knee problems, was taller than anyone on FGCU’s roster at 6-foot-3. She also did plenty of damage from the perimeter, making three 3s in the first half.
In addition to all her scoring, Miller contributed nine rebounds, three assists, three steals and one emphatic blocked shot.
Owusu missed a few games down the stretch, but she’s back now as well.
“We’ve been through so much this season, and we’re just coming together at the right time,” Reese said. “I don’t think this team has folded yet.”
FGCU: The Eagles were a dangerous team, but on this day they were facing an opponent that could match their quickness. A first-ever Sweet 16 appearance for FGCU will have to wait.
Maryland: The Terps seem to be hitting their stride. They turned a close game into a blowout in impressive fashion.
“I really think Maryland with everybody healthy is a Final Four-caliber team,” Smesko said.
Smesko said he appreciated the atmosphere — even if playing a road game was difficult.
“I still think that’s great for basketball because it’s great to have so many people. That crowd was great tonight. To have a charged environment like that is a great experience to be a part of,” he said. “But it’s definitely, on the women’s side, difficult for the mid-majors to make that run to the Sweet 16, largely because you don’t get a neutral court game usually to go to the Sweet 16. You’re going to have to play on somebody’s home court.”
Maryland heads to the Sweet 16 in Spokane, Washington. Stanford and Kansas played Sunday night for the right to face the Terps.
Follow Noah Trister at https://twitter.com/noahtrister
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