The Observer is a student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame, Saint Mary's & Holy Cross. Learn about us.


ND Women’s Basketball

Notre Dame kicks off Ivey era with 1-1 showing against Ohio, Miami (OH)

| Monday, November 30, 2020

Newly minted Notre Dame women’s basketball head coach Niele Ivey kicked off her tenure with a 1-1 showing over the weekend, dropping the season opener by one point at Ohio University Friday before posting a 20-point victory over Miami (OH) at home on Sunday.

“So excited,” Ivey said after the rebound win against the RedHawks. “This was a dream, something I visualize, something that I’ve prayed about, just to be able to say that I could get a win. And to be, you know, the head coach, and just walking into Purcell Pavilion… So very excited.”

The Irish (1-1) were shorthanded in both games, with sophomore forward Sam Brunelle, senior forward Mikayla Vaughn and freshman forward Natalija Marshall all out. In the opener against the Bobcats (2-0), that depletion was exacerbated by freshman forward Amirah Abdur-Rahim’s absence, although the Marietta, GA native would return against the RedHawks (0-1).

Observer File Photo
Irish assistant coach Niele Ivey, center, sits courtside during Notre Dame’s 89-76 win over Georgia Tech on Jan. 22, 2015 at Purcell Pavilion. From 2007-2019 Ivey was an assistant coach and eventually promoted to associate head coach and recruiting coordinator with the Irish, and after a one-year stint with the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies she succeeded Hall of Famer Muffet McGraw, center right, as head coach of the Irish for this season.

With four frontcourt players out against Ohio, that left freshman forward Maddy Westbeld, younger sister of former Irish player Kathryn Westbeld, to man the interior. Unfortunately for Notre Dame, Westbeld would pick up two fouls within a two-minute span of the first quarter, leading Ivey to replace her with junior guard Abby Prohaska.

Even so, that was not entirely what did the Irish in. The only player listed over six feet tall for the Bobcats to play in the game was redshirt sophomore forward Abby Garnett, and she only played two minutes.

The Irish and Bobcats were almost even in every scoring statistic, matching each other in points in the paint (36) and recording eerily close margins in field goals and three-pointers made (29-28 and 9-8 edges for the Bobcats, respectively), free throws made (21-19 in favor of the Irish) and second-chance points (a 12-11 win for the Irish). The difference came in Ohio capitalizing on Notre Dame’s mistakes to the tune of 23 points off turnovers, plus an additional 17 points coming off the bench for the home team.

Furthermore, the Irish had virtually no answer for senior guard Cece Hooks and redshirt junior backcourt mate Erica Johnson. The tandem combined for 56 of Ohio’s 86 points, with Hooks recording the sixth 30-point game of her career in a 32-point showing.

Not to be outdone, however, Irish junior transfer guard Dara Mabrey recorded a game — and career — high 34 points, the most ever in a Notre Dame debut, behind 7-14 shooting from three as she played every single minute and almost single-handedly rallied the Irish from a 14-point third-quarter deficit with 15 points of her own in the period. Sophomore guard Anaya Peoples and graduate student guard Destinee Walker also chipped in with 16 points apiece, with 10 of Peoples’ coming in the third quarter.

It was for naught though as the Bobcats rallied in their own right, climbing out of a seven-point hole with just over six minutes to play and escaping with a victory as Mabrey’s three-point attempt to tie was off in the final seconds and Walker’s two free throws on the offensive rebound established the final one-point margin.

Of note in the game was that it was Prohaska’s first action since the 2019 national championship game against Baylor. She was diagnosed with a bilateral pulmonary embolism prior to the 2019-20 season that caused her to take a medical redshirt. It had been 599 days since her last appearance in an Irish uniform.

Even with the narrow loss, Ivey took positives away from the effort.

“I always feel like, with a loss, there’s a lot of lessons and a lot of growth that comes from losses,” she said, “and so I definitely feel that Maddy learned and I also learned as well as a coach.”

Westbeld rebounded — no pun intended — with an impressive showing in the following game against Miami. The Kettering, Ohio native went for 19 points — the most of any player on the court aside from Walker’s 24 — and nine boards, four of them offensive, in her Purcell Pavilion debut. After fouling out against the Bobcats, Westbeld recorded only two personals against the RedHawks to go along with the first two blocks of her collegiate career.

“I had so much adrenaline playing [in the first game], and not being able to play, that was tough,” Westbeld said after the win Sunday. “And then going into the second game, that was really just my focus, and just trying to remain conscious of the fouls.”

Notre Dame won every quarter against Miami, and the 20-point victory came despite Mabrey going scoreless on 0-3 shooting in just 22 minutes of action following her outburst two days earlier. It helped that Westbeld had another frontcourt player to turn to as Abdur-Rahim took the court for the first time against the RedHawks. She posted four points, four rebounds and one steal in her first collegiate action.

“She played amazing,” Westbeld said of Abdur-Rahim’s debut. “Honestly, like, all of our practices, we’ve been having different people playing different positions. Me and a couple other girls have had to know multiple positions. So just getting that help, getting that extra juice and her energy was awesome, and… just an extra body. And she did a great job.”

Ivey praised both Abdur-Rahim for the way she’s improved since arriving on campus a few months ago and Westbeld for the way she handled extra duties in the first two games of her career.

“It was huge, really refreshing to know that I had, you know, depth and another person that can play the post position,” Ivey said of Abdur-Rahim. “Actually Amirah has been, since she stepped on the campus, she’s gotten better and better and better. [Associate head] coach [Carol] Owens has done a really good job of working on developing her.”

“I was absolutely not surprised with Maddy Westbeld,” Ivey went on to say. “She’s been the most dominant player that I’ve ever seen coming in as a freshman, maybe outside of [former Irish and current WNBA standouts] Skylar [Diggins-Smith] and Arike [Ogunbowale]. She has a college body, she’s ready, her approach to the game is incredible, her work ethic is incredible and she’s so versatile. So that was the one person I knew that was gonna make a wave with our team.”

Also of note over the weekend was the play of freshman guard Alli Campbell who, in her first two games, totaled four and eight points, respectively, while also recording two blocks in each contest. Peoples recorded a double-double against both Ohio schools with 11 boards in each game, and Prohaska scored in double figures for the first time in her career against the RedHawks.

The Irish are slated to return to action Thursday against Michigan. Ivey said she hopes to get “at least one or two of the players” that were out back ahead of Thursday’s game, but she isn’t sure who those players will be.

Tip-off against the Wolverines is set for 6 p.m. with the game to be broadcast on the ACC Network.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

About Hayden Adams

Hayden is the former sports editor of The Observer. When he's not working toward his four majors (physics and film, television & theatre) and three minors (journalism, ethics & democracy), you can probably find him hopelessly trying to save his beloved Zahm House from being wiped out. He plans to attend law school at a TBD location after graduation.

Contact Hayden