As she heard the cheers Sunday night for maybe her last time in Xfinity Center, Diamond Miller, the star who’d stayed, cradled her hands together in the shape of a heart. The buzzer had sounded on the Maryland women’s basketball team’s second-round NCAA Tournament win over Arizona, and before Miller could think about the Sweet 16, before she could be whisked over to Under Armour founder Kevin Plank and a sit-down with ESPN’s broadcast crew, she turned to her adoring crowd in College Park with a message of love and affirmation.

This scene — a 77-64 win for the second-seeded Terps, powered by Miller’s game-high 24 points and hounding defense, her New Jersey family cheering her on in College Park — had always seemed possible, maybe even probable. Miller, the senior All-American, has been one of college basketball’s most dazzling talents since a breakout sophomore season. But the arc of her brilliant Terps career had left room for doubt about where she might wind up in mid-March 2023.

One season ago, Miller had battled through a knee injury that undercut a talented team’s postseason ambitions. Eleven months ago, she’d watched some of her best friends transfer out of Maryland, leaving her to wonder whether she should leave, too. Then there was the offseason knee surgery, the roster overhaul, the reckoning with coach Brenda Frese about what they both wanted out of their unusual relationship.

All of it had led here, to a victory lap around her second home and to a second weekend of March Madness.

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“I think it was just a lot of emotions,” said Miller, a projected top-three pick in the WNBA draft who’s not expected to use her fifth year of eligibility. “I was so happy that we were going to the Sweet 16 again, and it’s just like, ‘This could be my last time playing here, too.’ Which is also, like, wow — four years go by so quickly. And then, it’s your last home game. You’re like, ‘Wait, what does that mean?’ So, yeah, it’s definitely a surreal moment.”

Maryland’s Abby Meyers (10) reacts to missing an And-1 opportunity at the XFINITY Center during a tournament game between the No. 2 Maryland Terrapins and the No. 7 Arizona Wildcats. The University of Maryland beat the University of Arizona, 77-64, in the second round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Miller’s masterpiece of a third quarter pushed Maryland to its third straight Sweet 16, where a rematch Saturday against No. 3 seed Notre Dame in Greenville, South Carolina, awaits. The Terps (27-6) won the teams’ first matchup, in South Bend, Indiana, on a buzzer-beating jumper by Miller. The Fighting Irish have since lost two starting guards, All-America point guard Olivia Miles and Dara Mabrey, to season-ending knee injuries in the three-plus months since.

Notre Dame will have to answer what seventh-seeded Arizona (22-10) could not Sunday: How do you stop a fully operational Miller, who at a wiry 6 foot 3 can lead fast breaks with either hand, stuff shots at the rim, pirouette in the paint and, when she really wants to be unfair, swish 3-pointers? Shaking off a forgettable first half, Miller went for 13 points on 6-for-6 shooting in the third quarter. The Terps had entered halftime trailing 33-32. They entered the fourth quarter leading 62-41.

“Your All-American does what she’s supposed to do,” Frese said of Miller, who shot 11-for-19 overall and added seven assists, six rebounds and three steals. “Third quarter, it was ‘Miller Time’ coming out. ... Like we’ve seen Diamond do so many times, she just willed her team, and I thought it started with her defense. The impact she was making there, to her offense, they had no answer for her.”

They have not always seen eye-to-eye, coach and player. Even Sunday, Frese laughed as she recalled one mixup on defense. Frese had wanted Miller to shade Arizona guard Shaina Pellington to her right hand. Miller heard Frese, adjusted her defensive stance and started shading Pellington to her ... left hand. “I’m like, ‘Your other right,’” Frese joked.

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Miller arrived in Maryland as a McDonald’s All-American, one of the stars of a ballyhooed 2019 recruiting class. She’d picked the Terps over other top programs, she explained Sunday, because she felt she could trust Frese to play her where she was most dynamic, most comfortable. Other schools looked at Miller’s length and height and saw a post presence; Frese looked at Miller and saw a wing of unusual dimensions and ability.

But their relationship in College Park did not start as an especially chummy one. Success was nearly instant for Miller, who had a key reserve role on a Big Ten Conference championship team that was expected to receive a No. 1 seed in the 2019-20 season ultimately ended by the coronavirus pandemic, then earned first-team All-Big Ten Conference honors as a sophomore for another league-title-winning squad. Camaraderie with her coach, though — that took longer to establish.

Maryland’s head coach Brenda Frese reacts to a play on the XFINITY Center court during a tournament game between the No. 2 Maryland Terrapins and the No. 7 Arizona Wildcats. The University of Maryland beat the University of Arizona, 77-64, in the second round of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

As a freshman, Miller recalled that she “barely talked” to Frese. “I didn’t want to,” she said Sunday. “I was just, like — yeah.” As a junior, Miller struggled to handle the mental burden of her knee injury. After the season, Owusu and forward Angel Reese (St. Frances), fellow stars and two of her closest friends on the team, announced they intended to transfer. Frese had to re-recruit Miller all over again. Miller, knowing a restart was inevitable wherever she landed, stayed with the coach who knew her best.

“I know Diamond and I know she’s the type of player who’s going to work her butt off to get back and be the best version of herself,” Masonius said. “So I knew it wasn’t her last time [playing in Maryland]. Yeah, injuries happen. But she’s definitely the type of person who’s going to prevail and come back better, and she definitely did.”

In 31 regular-season games, Miller set career highs in scoring (19.5 points per game), rebounding (6.5 per game), steals (two per game) and blocks (1.3 per game) — and, unofficially, texting with her coach. They still “bicker” in practice, Masonius joked, but it’s the “right kind” of dialogue, a helpful nagging that flows from a demanding coach to an uber-competitive player who now considers their relationship a friendship.

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“I can push her hard and she doesn’t take it personal,” Frese said. “And you can challenge her. She just wants to win. We both have so many common things from that competitive edge. She just wants to win.”

“Just proud of both of them,” guard Abby Meyers said. “They’re the heart and glue of this team.”

Miller wore her pride like a second jersey Sunday. After she bade farewell to the announced 6,622 in attendance, she slapped a Maryland sticker on a ceremonial bracket with Meyers, jumping excitedly like middle schoolers who’d just gotten a snow day. After a wave of hugs and attagirls from fans, friends and family members, she slipped into a hallway with Frese, teammate Shyanne Sellers and team officials as they waited for their news conference to start.

They’d come so far over their four years, Miller and Frese had. On maybe their last big night in College Park, they looked like they belonged together.

“Of course I’m biased, but I believe this is one of the best colleges to ever go to,” Miller said. “I feel like every top player should come here. You’re going to play with a wonderful coach who’ll let you thrive and [be] who you are. … I just think she recruits you to be the person you were in high school and who you’re going to be in college. So I think everybody should commit here, but I’m biased.”

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As Frese looked on from two seats over, Miller smiled and shrugged her shoulders.