ND Women’s Basketball
Ivey begins postseason coaching career at ACC Tournament
Hayden Adams | Thursday, March 4, 2021
One year to the day from seeing their 2019-20 season come to an end with a first-round exit of the ACC Tournament against five-win Pittsburgh, the Notre Dame women’s basketball team is returning to Greensboro, North Carolina, for another shot at the postseason. This time around, though, things look quite different:
A new head coach, a retooled roster, three fewer wins and nine fewer losses than last season’s squad (thanks to the influences of COVID-19 on the schedule) and an improvement in seeding from No. 10 to No. 6 in the 15-team conference tournament. Head coach Niele Ivey kicked off her seven-minute interview block during Monday’s ACC Tournament Coaches Zoom Call with some optimism about where her team finds itself.
“Just super excited to have this opportunity, for me, for first time, leading this program in the ACC Tournament,” Ivey said. “You know, we’ve had an up-and-down year, injuries, and to end up the six seed, I’m super proud of our group.”
Notre Dame (10-9, 8-7 ACC) is coming off a 78-61 loss to Louisville, the conference’s No. 1 team and the No. 5 team nationally. It was a disappointing end to the regular season in which the Irish never held a lead and found themselves on the losing end of several statistical battles — including the turnover margin (25 for the Irish, 12 for the Cardinals), points off turnovers (Cards 25, Irish 12) and fast break points (Cards 13, Irish 2).
With the Irish floating just above .500 and without an abundance of marquee wins on their resume, they find themselves on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, a situation that Ivey is fully aware of.
“I think every game matters, every game is important,” she said. “If we could, you know, win one game in the ACC Tournament, I think that’d be huge for our body of work.”
Ivey expounded on the opportunity the conference tournament holds in an interview with local media on Tuesday.
“I know that our team, we understand, like, this is it; this is it for us as far as, you know, you’re one-and-done in the ACC Tournament,” she said. “And every game, if you can stay alive, you can survive and advance, it’s going to help our push to try to continue playing … Hopefully we don’t feel any pressure.”
On the precipice of returning to the Big Dance for the 25th consecutive season — as no tournament streaks were ended last season despite the reality that, had the event taken place, the Irish would not have qualified — Notre Dame has a date with Clemson. The rub? The Tigers handed the Irish their biggest loss of the season in a 78-55 decision back on December 20.
Ivey reflected on that pre-Christmas matchup and what led to such a lopsided result.
“I felt like they did a great job of pressuring us for 40 minutes, and it really bothered us,” she said. “We got in foul trouble. I mean, I went deep in the in the rotation that game because I had multiple players with two fouls in the first half. And I felt like, with that, it was different chemistry. Like, we really weren’t on the same page at all that entire game. And they shot the ball really well.”
Clemson bested Notre Dame’s shooting percentages from the field, three and free throw line that day in addition to recording 16 more second chance points. However, Ivey believes that the Irish will be better for what they went through against the Tigers and other ACC teams this season.
“I’m very happy that we’ve had the opportunity to play them,” she said. “We have the film on ourselves to see areas that we need to get better at, strengths and weaknesses wise … I think we’ve had, you know, multiple teams that have pressed us this year if you look back at the Boston College game, Syracuse, you know, even Louisville with the pressure that they gave us. So… we’ve grown by playing those teams.”
Despite what’s on the line for Notre Dame in the conference tournament, Ivey also reflected on her first season as head coach of the Irish and the way her team has performed despite significant adversity.
“I’m just excited and happy that we finished sixth, which is something I’m very proud of,” she said in regard to their conference seeding. “… Last year was a rebuild year, this year [we] came in with only seven healthy players. So I didn’t have a full roster till December … So that’s been challenging, just to put in my new offense in year one with a lot of injuries and, you know, not a full roster, was very challenging to put in my offensive and defensive schemes and building culture.”
With the regular season behind them, the Irish are prepped for that time of year when they have historically been at their best: the postseason.
“I’m just looking forward, like I said, just excited to have another opportunity to play, just coming off of a pause,” she said. “So every opportunity to play this game, I’m super excited about … And we’re gonna have a narrow, you know, we’re gonna really be focused in on Clemson and hopefully, you know, we can play good basketball for 40 minutes on Thursday.”