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Irish look to move past Sooners in Norman

| Monday, March 21, 2022

There were plenty of empty seats when Notre Dame downed UMass in Norman, Oklahoma, with an offensive blitz Saturday night in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Most of those will likely be filled Monday night, and a majority of people packed in the Lloyd Noble Center won’t be rooting for Notre Dame when head coach Niele Ivey and her Irish take on hosts Oklahoma.

“We have to play our style of basketball,” Ivey said Sunday. “But [also] have to just try to drown out the noise and just make sure that we’re locked in, even as far as the game, because it’s going to be a game of runs, and we have to make sure that we are locked in.”

The Irish (23-8, 12-5 ACC) went 10-7 away from home this season, compared to 13-1 at Purcell Pavilion.

“Fortunately, for being in the ACC, we’ve had many tough road opponents,” Ivey added, “and we’ve been in crazy environments at UConn, at Georgia Tech. So we are prepared for it, but, again, you have to sustain and try to take the crowd out of it with your performance.”

The Irish might be to silence the Sooners’ fans if they can replicate their sizzling offensive display Saturday night in their 89-78 win over the Minutewomen. The Irish shot 57.6% from the field and over 41% from beyond the arc.

Sophomore forward Maddy Westbeld, graduate student center Maya Dodson and senior guard Dara Mabrey combined for 55 points. Westbeld led Notre Dame with 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field. Mabrey shot 5-of-8 from 3 and finished with 18 points to match Dodson.

Reflecting Sunday, Westbeld was pleased the Irish were able to open the game on a 10-2 run.

“We needed that,” she said. “We’ve been slow to come out the last couple of games. So that was great for us. And I think going forward we’re just going to keep the momentum going.”

Olivia Miles became the second player to record multiple triple-doubles in her Irish career with 12 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds against the Minutewomen. The first Notre Dame player to accomplish the feat was Skylar Diggins-Smith in 2012.

“This year I’ve required her to do a lot,” Ivey said of her First-Team All-ACC point guard. “She’s had to take on carrying a team, carrying a program as a freshman, which is a very hard task. But I knew that she was capable of handling it.”

The Sooners (25-8, 12-6 Big 12) have averaged over 83 points per game this season and are led by guards Taylor Robertson and Madi Williams, who both average over 17 points per game. Roberston has shot 45% from three this season, good for fifth in the nation.

Ivey called Robertson, who leads the county with almost 3.7 3-pointers per game, “the best 3-point shooter in the country.”

“We’ve never seen a shooter like Robertson, so we have a hard task,” she said. “And, also, Madi Williams, she can score a variety of ways.

13-seed IUPUI hung with 4-seed Oklahoma for the majority of its first NCAA Tournament appearance. The Jaguars cut the lead to four with 24 seconds to play before the Sooners iced the game from the free-throw line.

Williams and Roberston led the way with 21- and 22-point performances Saturday night, respectively. The rest of the Sooners’ starters combined for just 16 points.

Oklahoma would have a prolific guard trio of Ana Llanusa was still healthy. The redshirt senior guard was averaging 17.3 ppg before the Sooners lost her to a leg injury in early January.

As it is, Ivey knows the Irish are in for a dogfight.

“We’ll definitely come to stay true to our style and our brand of basketball, so we’re going to try to get out and run with OU tomorrow night,” she said.

Whoever survives the matchup will play the winner of top-seed NC State and 9-seed Kansas State. In their only meeting with the No. 3 Wolfpack in early February, the Irish grabbed their best win of the season with a three-point home victory, Ivey’s first victory over a top-five opponent as Notre Dame head coach.

ACC Rookie of the Year Sonia Citron knows advancing past the Sooners in their backyard won’t be easy.

“But we just got to find a way to get our own energy, the freshman guard said, “And play how we play at home.”

Tip-off is scheduled for 6 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.

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