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ND Women’s Basketball

Notre Dame falls to Clemson in ACC Tournament, hopes for postseason bid

| Monday, March 15, 2021

The Notre Dame women’s basketball team will be waiting with bated breath until 7 p.m. Monday. That’s the scheduled time for the 2021 women’s NCAA Tournament Selection Show, wherein the Irish (10-10, 8-7 ACC) will learn their postseason destiny.

The ACC’s sixth-seeded Notre Dame dropped their opening match of the conference tournament on Mar. 4 in a 68-63 decision to Clemson. It was one year to the day after the 2020 version of the Irish (shouldering a record of 13-18, 8-10 in the ACC) saw their season end with a first-round conference tournament exit against five-win Pittsburgh.

This postseason’s matchup with the Tigers was a rematch of the Irish’s most lopsided defeat of head coach Niele Ivey’s first season at the reins in South Bend. Notre Dame was plagued by foul trouble in that Dec. 20 road trip as they fell 78-55. Coming into the rematch, Ivey acknowledged that at least one win in the conference tournament could be the difference in their resume being tournament-worthy.

With two-and-a-half months to prepare for a rematch, Notre Dame found themselves leading the Tigers 54-50 after three quarters of play and with a solid chance of advancing to the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. However, a problem that has plagued the Irish reared its head as they collapsed in the final period, allowing the Tigers to double them up 18-9 in the period.

The first period was a back-and-forth affair, with Notre Dame getting senior forward Mikayla Vaughn involved early with an and-1 layup to go up 3-0 from the jump and another close-range lay-in to retake a 7-6 lead. From there, freshman point guard Olivia Miles — who was not on the roster in the previous matchup with the Tigers as she enrolled in the spring — looked to make a statement in her postseason debut.

Miles found her way to the charity stripe on three occasions in the opening stanza, converting 4-5 attempts with the lone miss coming after a basket through contact. She would also chip in with two assists and a rebound as the Irish led 17-15 after the first quarter.

Courtesy of Notre Dame Athletics
Irish freshman guard Olivia Miles goes for layup during Notre Dame’s 68-63 second-round ACC Tournament loss to Clemson on Mar. 4.

In the second quarter, another freshman got in on the action. Do-it-all forward Maddy Westbeld — named ACC Freshman of the Year after leading Notre Dame in scoring and rebounding at 15.2 points and 7.9 rebounds per game and coming in second in assists and blocks — chipped in with eight points after a scoreless opening stanza. Thanks to that effort, the Irish found themselves ahead 36-29 at the half.

Westbeld picked up where she left off to start the second half, scoring Notre Dame’s first four points. Junior guard Dara Mabrey and graduate student guard Destinee Walker also continued their efforts from the first half as the Irish built a 52-42 advantage with 1:33 to go in the third quarter.

However, the Tigers would go on an 8-0 run in a span of 83 seconds to make it a two-point game. A Vaughn layup with one second left salvaged a scrap of momentum for the Irish as they took a four-point edge into the final period.

It was Vaughn and Westbeld fighting to keep Notre Dame on top in the fourth quarter. But with a 60-57 edge with under five minutes to go, the Irish gave up back-to-back offensive rebounds on free throws that gave the Tigers the lead.

A three-pointer to make it 64-60 Clemson with 18 seconds left ended up being the nail in the coffin. A Westbeld and-1 made it 64-63 with 14 seconds left, but Clemson knocked down four free throws down the stretch to establish the final margin.

The bane of the Irish was the Tigers’ freshman guard Gabby Elliot, who scored a game-high 25 points on 10-22 field goals. Mabrey and Miles each scored 10 points to complement Westbeld’s 21 as the Irish dominated the points in the paint battle 40-22. However, Clemson advantages in turnovers (17-23), points off turnovers (29-6), second chance points (18-4) and made free throws (19-9) ultimately did Notre Dame in.

Now, the Irish leave their fate up to the selection committee as they hope to make their 25th consecutive NCAA Tournament.

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