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ND Women’s Basketball

Citron stars as Irish beat Spartans, eye showdown with UConn

| Friday, December 3, 2021

Playing their second true road game of the season, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish women’s basketball team triumphed over Michigan State, 76-71, on Thursday night. The Irish, ranked No. 24 in this week’s AP Poll, improved to 7-1 on the season with the victory in the ACC/Big Ten challenge. The Spartans fell to 6-3. This victory sets the Irish up for a thrilling road battle this Sunday against No. 2 UConn, as Notre Dame gets a true measuring stick battle. The Irish’s lone loss came on a neutral court in overtime to Georgia, but they followed it up with an upset of then-No. 16 Oregon State. They’ll look for another ranked win over a historic rival this weekend. 

Irish take down Spartans

Notre Dame dispatched a pesky Michigan State team in a game that stayed close throughout. The star of the contest was freshman guard Sonia Citron who poured in 29 points. Fellow freshman guard Olivia Miles was two assists shy of a triple-double, posting an impressive 11 points, 11 rebounds and eight assist efforts.

Notre Dame started slowly in a game that started with a high-tempo offense. However, down 23-15 in the final minute of the first quarter, Citron and senior guard Dara Mabrey drilled shots from beyond the arc to cut the deficit to two points. The Irish rode a 9-0 run to a seven-point lead in the second quarter, although the Spartans stuck around. At halftime, Notre Dame led 36-34, thanks in part to a series of turnovers that kept the Irish scoreless for the final three minutes of action. 

Notre Dame never trailed in the second half, but their lead was never truly comfortable. Michigan State didn’t score for the first 3 minutes and 48 seconds of second-half action, allowing the Irish to balloon their lead to 45-35. However, a 12-4 Michigan State run again brought the Spartans knocking on the doorstep of the lead. From there, however, it was the Citron show. 

With Notre Dame leading 49-47, Citron was sitting at just eight points on the day. However, she took over in the end of the third quarter, scoring eight points in the final three minutes. The Irish led 55-50 and then expanded it to 65-55 in the early stages of the fourth. The Spartans scratched five straight points out, but Citron buried a triple to keep the pesky hosts at bay. She went on to make four free throws down the stretch, as Notre Dame outlasted the Spartans 76-71. 

Showdown in Storrs

The UConn-Notre Dame rivalry has many chapters, although Notre Dame has been going through a bit of a program rebuild. However, at 7-1 and back into the Top 25, the Irish are ready to try and take their third win in five tries against the Huskies. The last meeting was lopsided, as UConn won 81-57 in December of 2019. However, the Irish have won the higher-profile games as of late, with Final Four victories in 2018 and 2019. That being said, Notre Dame hasn’t won a regular-season game against UConn since March 4, 2013. Since then, it’s been six straight regular-season losses against the Huskies for the Irish.

The Irish’s balanced scoring has been the hallmark of their season in 2021. Five players are averaging at least 11 points per game, paced by sophomore forward Maddy Westbeld with 14.5 points per contest. Westbeld and junior forward Sam Brunelle lead the team with 7.9 and 8.3 rebounds per game, respectively. 

However, things won’t come easy against UConn. The Huskies are only 3-1 this season, having played just four games. However, they figure to improve to 4-1 with a Friday night tuneup against unranked Seton Hall. Their most impressive win was a ranked road victory, 60-53, over No. 13 South Florida. Their only loss is to No. 1 South Carolina. The Huskies run through sophomore guard Paige Bueckers who averages 20.5 points per game. She also leads the team in assists with 26 in four games. Senior guard Christyn Williams complements Bueckers with 17.3 points per game. 

Notre Dame’s battle is a noon tipoff in Storrs on Sunday. The Irish won’t play at home again until December 12 against Purdue University Fort Wayne.

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