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Sports

Notre Dame women’s basketball prepares for March Madness opener against Massachusetts

| Friday, March 18, 2022

On Saturday night, Notre Dame women’s basketball will start their March Madness journey with a matchup against the University of Massachusetts.

The Minutewomen enter as champions of the Atlantic 10 conference, and winners of five straight games. The seed difference between the two teams indicates that the opening round game shouldn’t be much of a contest. But Massachusetts has what it takes to give the Irish a strong fight in their opening game.

Massachusetts’s greatest strength as a team lies in its defensive prowess. The Minutewomen run an engaged man-to-man defensive scheme. Their defense seeks to force the opposition to score on the first look by limiting chances on the offensive glass. Massachusetts is top twenty-five in the country in rebound rate and total rebounds overall. They play mistake-free and aggressive ball on defense. Look for the Minutewomen to try to force Notre Dame to give the ball up on sloppy turnovers.

One concern the Minutewomen might face against the Irish, however, is depth. Massachusetts tends to roll with a six-woman rotation, with four players often eclipsing the 35 minutes played per game mark. So if Notre Dame can get the Minutewomen into foul trouble, or run their starting lineup tired, Massachusetts won’t have much in the way of tested replacements to bring in and finish out the game. 

Expect Notre Dame to try to exploit this lack of depth and man-to-man defense by isolating Olivia Miles early. The freshman point guard has caught national attention for her skills as a creator and strong assist numbers. But her scoring ability has become underrated as more and more people focus on her passing skills. Miles leads the Irish with 13.7 points per game and possesses an excellent first step on the dribble that makes her a danger driving to the lane when guarded one on one. If Miles can get to the hoop and draw contact, it will be an effective way of forcing Massachusetts to be more conservative on defense as the fouls rack up and it will get Miles to the foul line for easy points.

Graduate student forward Maya Dodson will likely also play a major role in head coach Niele Ivey’s game plan. Dodson has been the Irish’s biggest threat on the boards all season, as she leads the team in both total rebounds and rebounds per game with 229 and 7.6, respectively. The Irish will likely count on her to control the glass against the Minutewomen’s strong rebounding. If Dodson can be a force in the paint on both the offensive and defensive end, the Irish will be able to dictate the tempo of the game. And if Notre Dame can bring up the tempo, they’re more likely to force Massachusetts into a high-scoring affair. That would not suit the Minutewomen’s strong defensive style well.

Ultimately, the biggest key to Irish success on Saturday will be making sure the team doesn’t look ahead of Massachusetts. Four-seed and regional hosts Oklahoma loom as a major test for this young Notre Dame team — should they beat Massachusetts. But the Irish will need to handle business in the first round to get a shot at the Sooners. If Notre Dame maintains their focus and plays sharp, they’ll get that shot.

Notre Dame women’s basketball will take on Massachusetts at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night in Norman, Oklahoma. The game will be broadcasted on ESPN2.

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