ND Women’s Basketball
Irish drop regular season finale to No. 6 Cardinals
Greg McKenna | Monday, March 1, 2021
Three weeks after a nail-biting loss at then-No. 1 Louisville preempted a two-game winning streak that put the Irish back on the good side of the bubble, Notre Dame looked to close the regular season with a big resume building-win in the rematch Sunday afternoon at Purcell Pavilion.
The Irish (10-9, 8-7 ACC), however, never led Sunday as the No. 6 Cardinals (21-2, 14-2 ACC) rebounded from a surprise loss at Florida State last Sunday to clinch their fourth consecutive regular season ACC title with a convincing 78-61 victory behind 26 points from senior guard Dana Evans.
Evans, who leads the ACC with 20.8 points per game, became the first player in Louisville program history to win four regular season conference titles. Notre Dame first-year head coach Niele Ivey said postgame that Evans put in the type of “phenomenal” performance that makes her the presumed ACC Player of the Year.
“She’s just a special player,” Ivey said. “She can create for herself, she can get to the paint, she can shoot the three, she’s got deep range and she has a swag and confidence about her.”
Though Ivey said she was “obviously disappointed” by the result, she opened her postgame press conference by thanking local artist Kamika Perry, who designed custom shoes and a pregame t-shirt for the Irish in support of the team’s mission to promote racial justice.
Ivey said the display felt especially poignant on the final day of Black History Month.
“I was really proud of the project and just proud of my team [for] trying to have a message of unity today and just bringing a message of hope,” she said. “I’m hoping our team can continue to try to inspire our community. And so that was really special for me today.”
Notre Dame got off to a very sloppy start offensively, turning the ball over on each of their first five possessions. The Irish ended up losing the turnover battle 25-12, allowing Louisville to outscore the Irish off of turnovers by the same margin.
While Ivey attributed the first five turnovers to poor decision-making, she said Louisville’s defense deserved credit for her team’s struggles to take care of the basketball during the rest of the ballgame.
“As far as handling their pressure, they get up, they overplay, they’re playing in the passing lanes, and I thought they made us really uncomfortable,” Ivey said. “So they got us out of our shooting range, they got us on our heels.”
Louisville led 28-18 at the end of the first quarter after shooting a blistering 65% from the floor.
Evans set the tone for the Cardinals by scoring 12 of Louisville’s first 17 points in her final collegiate homecoming game. The Gary, Indiana, native started 4-4 from the floor and 2-2 from three.
Unfortunately from an Irish perspective, Notre Dame began the second quarter much like they did the first, turning the ball over on two of their first three possessions. After Louisville junior forward Elizabeth Dixon finished inside to restore a ten-point lead just over a minute into the quarter, the Irish would never trail by less than double-figures.
Dixon went a perfect 5-5 from the floor in the first half for 10 points off the bench. One of five Cardinals to score in double-figures for the afternoon, she finished with 12 points.
The Dixon layup began a 12-2 run that forced Niele Ivey to finally call a timeout with three minutes left in the first half with the Irish down 42-22. A jumper from Louisville freshman forward Olivia Cochran stretched the lead to 22 before Notre Dame’s early enrollee, freshman point guard Olivia Miles, scored the home team’s first points in nearly five minutes when she drove for the bucket and the foul with 1:40 to play in the quarter.
Miles missed the ensuing free throw, but Notre Dame forced two Louisville turnovers themselves to regain some momentum and cut the Cardinals’ lead to 44-28 heading into halftime.
Notre Dame’s top three scorers this season – freshman forward Maddy Westbeld, junior guard Dara Mabrey and graduate student guard Destinee Walker – were held to just a combined three points in the first half.
Sophomore forward Sam Brunelle, however, said Notre Dame’s 16 first-half turnovers were by far the much bigger problem.
“I mean, you take away 10 of those 16 we had at the half, that’s a ballgame,” she said. “That’s a tie ballgame. So it’s just these small things that we have to really clean up.”
After a back-and-forth start to the second half, Brunelle gave the Irish life late in the third quarter with seven straight points to cut Louisville’s lead to ten at 55-45. However, the Cardinals quickly regained momentum after a quick 4-0 run culminating in Evans picking Miles’s pocket in the backcourt, one of 10 Louisville steals for the afternoon, and finishing a wide-open layup to end the quarter.
Brunelle scored 11 of her team-high 13 points in the third quarter, but she said she was unhappy with her play after putting in what she considered a poor defensive performance.
“If you go 6-10 from the floor, you better be playing some defense too,” she said. “And I did not do that very well today.”
Louisville stretched the lead to as high as 21 in the fourth quarter before cruising to a 17-point away win.
Notre Dame, who entered Sunday’s game as Charlie Creme’s “Last Team In” for ESPN’s “Bracketology,” must now turn their attention to a Thursday night matchup against Clemson in the second-round of the ACC Tournament.
As the Irish look to secure an NCAA tournament spot with a deep run in Greensboro, North Carolina, as the conference’s No. 6 seed, Ivey said the excitement of tournament basketball will give the Irish the opportunity to put Sunday’s loss in the rearview mirror.
“It’s March, and it just brings a whole new vibe, a whole new energy,” she said.
Tip-off Thursday at the Greensboro Coliseum is scheduled for 8:30 p.m.