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Irish escape the Tiger cage for air-tight win

| Friday, January 20, 2023

No. 7 Notre Dame women’s basketball improved to 15-2 overall and 6-1 in ACC play with perhaps its most exhausting victory yet. The Irish defeated Clemson 57-54 in a game that was never led by more than eight points. Notre Dame’s high-powered offense scored a full 24 points below its season average thanks to a slow start. However, sophomore guard Olivia Miles and the Irish defense came alive in key moments to survive a Thursday night thriller at Littlejohn Coliseum.

Before the game, head coach Niele Ivey described Clemson’s playing style as “organized chaos”. The early moments of the game were certainly chaotic for both offenses. In just over four minutes of first quarter action, Notre Dame and Clemson combined for nine total turnovers. The Tigers found a bit of rhythm just before the midway point of the quarter, embarking on a 12-2 run to open up a 12-4 lead. 

Notre Dame carried its sluggish offensive start through the end of the quarter, but its defense kept the game close. Clemson did not score in the final five minutes of the opening frame, taking a 12-8 lead into the second. Senior forward Amari Robinson was impressive early for the Tigers, totaling six points and six rebounds through 10 minutes.

Clemson got rolling again to start the second quarter, opening up a 19-10 lead. From there, the final eight minutes of the first half saw Notre Dame battle to draw themselves back into a close game. A 6-0 run brought the Irish within three, but a second 5-0 Clemson run restores its eight point lead. That’s when Olivia Miles tapped into her elite offensive ability for the first time. She nailed two big three-pointers and assisted on junior forward Maddy Westbeld’s late basket in the half’s final four minutes. At halftime, Notre Dame had cut the deficit to 29-26, and Miles had racked up 12 points and three assists. The Irish took much better care of the basketball in the second quarter, playing without a turnover in the final 3:50 of the half.

Notre Dame found its game on the back side of the halftime break, opening the second half on an 8-0 run. Junior forward Kylee Watson scored the first four points, part of an impressive eight-point performance in 10 minutes played. However, just like the Irish in the first half, Clemson would not go away. Junior guard Ale’Jah Douglas and sophomore guard Madi Ott drilled consecutive three-pointers to bring the Tigers back within three. 

With the Irish lead thinning out, Olivia Miles played her best basketball at the end of yet another quarter. She buried a triple and set up graduate student guard Dara Mabrey for a three-ball of her own in the final three minutes. That helped the Irish keep up with Clemson’s suddenly hot shooting to take a 44-44 tie to the fourth quarter.

The game’s final quarter started similarly to its first. Clemson gave away seven turnovers in the first six minutes, while the Irish opened 1-for-9 from the floor. Eventually, Notre Dame opened up a 57-51 lead in the final 30 seconds, as Miles and Westbeld hit their free throws. Miles also came up with a huge block while Clemson still trailed by six. 

The Irish appeared to have victory in hand, but Westbeld went 0-for-2 from the line and graduate Clemson student guard Brie Perpignan immediately converted a three-pointer. Ahead by three in the final 10 seconds, Notre Dame inadvertently handed the Tigers their chance to force overtime. Upon receiving the inbound pass, sophomore guard Sonia Citron stepped out of bounds with 5.9 ticks on the clock. Clemson senior guard Daisha Bradford ended up taking the game-tying look with two seconds to spare, but she couldn’t hit. With that, the Irish eked out a 57-54 win and could exhale after holding their breath from start to finish.

Notre Dame’s Olivia Miles led all scorers with 20 points, adding 8 assists and 4 rebounds. After scoring 23 in Sunday’s defeat of Syracuse, she has delivered 20-point efforts in consecutive games for the first time in her career. Miles spent much of the night teeing up Maddy Westbeld, who collected 15 points. Sonia Citron had a difficult offensive night (1-8 FG), but she hauled in nine rebounds. 

Clemson offered up a balanced scoring attack highlighted by an 8-for-19 three-point performance. Brie Perpignan hit three of those shots, earning 11 points on the night. Amari Robinson neared a double-double with 10 points and eight rebounds.

All in all, Notre Dame escaped by cutting down on turnovers late, a problem which Clemson never solved. The Tigers ended the night with 28 turnovers -— eight coming in the final quarter. The Irish also played cleaner defensive basketball, getting to the free throw line 21 times compared to Clemson’s six trips.

Up next

The Irish will return to Purcell Pavilion on Sunday to battle the Virginia Cavaliers (14-5, 3-5). The teams have not met since the 2019-20 season, when Virginia defeated Notre Dame 69-60. Prior to the loss, the Irish had gone 8-0 against the Cavaliers since joining the ACC in 2013. Notre Dame scored at least 74 points in every game during that win streak. Virginia forfeited last year’s matchup due to COVID-19 issues within its program.

First year head coach Amaka Agugua-Hamilton leads Virginia’s program. She has engineered quite the turnaround, bringing the program back to success after a 5-22 season. This year, Virginia was perfect in non-conference play, beating Power 5 programs Minnesota and Penn State. The Cavaliers then dropped four of five ACC contests, losing to three AP Top 25 teams by an average margin of 14.7. Virginia most recently defeated Boston College 66-50 on Sunday, but fell 77-68 to Florida State on Thursday night.

Virginia’s offense is nothing to write home about, but they have defended at a high level. The Cavaliers’ 35.1 opponents’ field goal percentage and 24.8 opponents’ three-point percentage are among the nation’s top 20. Senior forward Camryn Taylor, junior guard/forward Mir McLean and graduate forward Sam Brunelle all average between 11 and 13 points per game. McLean has also snatched just under ten rebounds per game. With her help, Virginia has been one of the strongest rebounding teams in the country. The Hoos have Division I’s 13th-best rebounding margin (10.3) along with the nation’s 16th-best offensive rebounding average (15.4). Notre Dame will counter with Divison I’s 4th-best rebounding margin (17.8) and 6th-best defensive rebounding average (32.1).

Sunday’s game will tip-off at 2:00 p.m. ET at Purcell Pavilion. The conference matchup will be available on the ACC Network and the Notre Dame Radio Network.

Contact Tyler Reidy at [email protected]

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