ND Women’s Basketball
Notre Dame women’s basketball face tests against Wake Forest, UNC following COVID layoff
Observer Sports Staff | Thursday, January 13, 2022
Notre Dame women’s basketball will resume their season on Thursday with a trip to Winston Salem, North Carolina, to face the Wake Forest Demon Deacons after their game against North Carolina State was postponed last week due to COVID-19 protocols.
The Irish will have to rebound from their last game once they hit the court in North Carolina, as Niele Ivey’s squad dropped a heartbreaker in their last outing against Duke, with the Blue Devils taking the lead in the final minute and closing out the victory.
However, the Fighting Irish should find an easier opponent in the Demon Deacons than in the Blue Devils. Wake is currently 2-3 in conference play, and is coming off a rough 41 point loss to Florida State. They are led by sophomore Jewel Spear, who is averaging an impressive 19.8 points per game, the highest on the team by far — no other players average double digits. Olivia Summiel is the central force on the glass for Wake, averaging nearly eight rebounds a game. The Demon Deacons have a relatively young front court, as both their starting guards are underclassmen — Spear and freshman Elise Williams.
Following their stint on the road, the Irish will return home to South Bend for a key weekend tilt with North Carolina. The Tar Heels have risen to No. 21 in the national polls, amassing a strong 14-1 record, with their only loss coming to No. 4 North Carolina State. With both Notre Dame and UNC currently hovering around the 20 mark in national rankings, Sunday’s matchup figures to be one pollsters around the country will be watching carefully.
Providing the scoring for the Tar Heels will be sophomore guard tandem Deja Kelly and Alyssa Ustby, who are averaging a team high 17.6 and 13.9 points per game, respectively. Ustby is also a force on the glass — averaging a team leading nine rebounds a game. The Kelly-Ustby pairing also lead the team in minutes, though right behind them is graduate student Carlie Littlefield, who has posted 44 assists on the year, good for first on the team.
Two victories for the Irish this week could provide a huge boost for the squad both in ACC standings and national rankings. Notre Dame currently sits in the thick of a five-team logjam battling for third place in the conference, and four of those five teams are ranked in the top 25. If the Irish can pull out a win over North Carolina at Purcell Pavilion, the team can put their loss to Duke behind them and continue to forge forward as the team prepares for a potential run at the NCAA tournament. With four players averaging over 10 points per game, and none averaging more than 15, Notre Dame has proven to be a deep team so far this season that can spread the ball across the court well. Contrary to what their impressive national ranking might imply, the Irish are a young squad as well. Of those four top scorers, three are underclassmen. With two wins this week, this young Irish team could go a long way in continuing to assert themselves in both the ACC standings and the national conversation moving forward.