COLLEGE PARK — When Maryland guard Diamond Miller fouled out with 2:17 to go, her job was already done.
As she exited the court to the applause of Xfinity Center, the 10th-ranked Terrapins’ lead stood at 10 points, and the No. 13 Michigan women’s basketball team’s 72-64 loss was all but guaranteed.
Miller’s 23-point, five-steal performance wasn’t the most impressive part of her game Thursday night. Nor was it that she delivered that line in less than 29 minutes of play. It was that Michigan knew she was the player to guard — and it still couldn’t shut her down.
When she was on the court, her presence controlled the game, and only when she was subbed out did Michigan stand a chance. Facing Miller, the Wolverines modified their lineups by going smaller numerous times just to try to stop her. But none of it worked, evidenced by her game-high plus-16 mark.
“I just think (Miller) was super crafty with the ball,” Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico said postgame. “She was able to draw two (defenders) to her at times and she was able to split us at times and really got to the free throw line.”
The Wolverines threw a committee of different players at Miller in their attempts to try to stop the 6-foot-3 guard. It was an approach that overwhelmingly failed.
With Maryland running lineups with four or five guards, a Michigan team that always starts two bigs was faced with a logistical challenge in defending the tall guard. Opening the game, the Wolverines placed graduate forward Emily Kiser on Miller, resulting in Kiser playing in a position she doesn’t typically find herself in. Once the Wolverines went to the bench to run out four guards of their own, a variety of guards were given the tall task of stopping the Big Ten’s third-leading scorer. However, it was a task they couldn’t accomplish.
“I loved everything about Diamond’s game tonight,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese said. “… She played so hard tonight. And that’s who she is, what she’s capable of doing every single night. Five steals, her aggressiveness on offense, her ability to allow other people to make plays for others.”
Despite the variety of defenders Miller faced, hardly anyone was able to keep her from her bread and butter: driving layups that find their way into the hoop. And even when she was fouled on those looks, she converted every time, going a perfect 7-for-7 from the charity stripe.
There were moments when it looked like the Wolverines might have figured it out. Midway through the third quarter, sophomore guard Laila Phelia picked up Miller. By chance or not, for the few possessions where Michigan’s best backcourt defender was guarding Miller, she didn’t score and had difficulty impacting her team’s offense.
Then Phelia switched back to her primary assignment — the Terrapins’ second-leading scorer, guard Shyanne Sellers — and Miller once again wreaked havoc as the carousel of defenders began to turn again.
Going into the matchup, the Wolverines knew Miller — a consensus projected top-five pick in this year’s upcoming WNBA draft — was a player to plan for. After she scored nine points in the first quarter, Michigan was reminded of her talent once again. Yet none of its schemes or in-game adjustments could subdue her for long.
“I told our kids just to try to make her finish over you instead of fouling her,” Barnes Arico said. “Because I thought at times we were doing a good job defensively, and then we would bail her out and put her to the free throw line and she’s an exceptional free throw shooter.”
But the only time the Wolverines could really stop Miller was when she was on the bench.
After picking up her fourth foul late in the third quarter, Miller exited the court. It was then that Michigan’s last comeback effort really took off. And for a few minutes, a win looked possible for the Wolverines. They were outscoring Maryland and were building momentum. But when Miller checked back in with 6:31 to play, she firmly killed Michigan’s comeback attempt.
Despite only scoring two points in the final frame, Miller’s impact for the four minutes between checking back in and fouling out was undeniable. The only Maryland player with a positive plus-minus in the final frame — five points higher than her next leading teammate — Miller made life miserable for the Wolverines.
And while Diamond Miller delivered a gem of a game, that gem shined even brighter considering Michigan knew her game from the start.