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Irish secure victory with fourth quarter defense

| Monday, February 13, 2023

On Sunday afternoon, Notre Dame women’s basketball dispatched Syracuse 73-64 at Purcell Pavillon. 

The Irish handled scoring by committee in their best offensive showing since Jan. 22 against Virginia. Four different players reached double digits in the points category. All seven players that registered 10 or more minutes scored at least seven points. 

Junior forward Kylee Watson had her best game of the season for the Irish on her birthday, finishing with a team-high 15 points. Watson also tied for the team lead with seven rebounds, a pair of which came at critical junctures on the offensive end. 

Without graduate center Lauren Ebo on the floor due to injury, Notre Dame has needed Watson to take on a much bigger role over the last several games. Sunday was her best showing yet in such an expanded role. 

Junior forward Maddy Westbeld also continued her strong run of play on Sunday, adding 14 points and seven rebounds of her own. The most important of those points came early on in the fourth quarter, when Westbeld drained an open-three pointer to both put the Irish back in front after trailing by two as well as snapping a cold streak of Irish failure from deep that had spanned the previous two quarters. 

Much like Watson, the absence of Notre Dame’s usual rebound machine in Ebo has forced Westbeld to take up a much bigger role in the team’s efforts in the paint and on the glass. The junior has responded well to that role-change, showing a tenacious willingness to fight for boards that mirrors the relentless energy lost with Ebo’s injury.

Though sophomore guard Olivia Miles took longer than usual to get into gear, the Irish floor general eventually found her scoring form to the tune of 13 points, nine of which came in the fourth quarter. Miles also maintained her usual impact on other facets of the game, adding seven rebounds as well as seven assists.

It was Dyaisha Fair who carried the bulk of the Syracuse scoring load, notching a game-high 22 points. Georgia Woolley and Dariauna Lewis also both pitched in with 17 and 14 points, respectively. 

It was Notre Dame’s fourth quarter defense that determined the final result of Sunday’s game for the Irish. After a third quarter, in which the Orange shot over 70% from the floor and 100% from deep, Niele Ivey’s squad buckled down in the final frame. 

Syracuse was held to just 10 points in the fourth quarter, a closeout that included a stretch of over seven minutes without a successful Orange shot from the field. Notre Dame’s performance seemed reflective of Duke’s exactly one week prior at Purcell, when the Blue Devils limited the Irish to just six fourth quarter points in a victory. 

Ivey said after the game the team’s fourth quarter defense, which hasn’t allowed an opponent more than 20 points in the final frame since a Jan. 8 loss to North Carolina, has been a major point of emphasis for her team this season. 

“I’m always preaching the fourth quarter, finishing the final ten minutes,” Ivey said. “Having that mindset defensively to lock in and focus in the fourth quarter is something that we’ve been focusing on all year. It’s been extremely important the last several weeks. They understand, when its the fourth quarter, that’s when you have to turn it up defensively and I thought they did that today.”

Notre Dame will now look ahead to a mid-week matchup against Louisville, in which the Irish will close out a four game home-stand. Though the Cardinals do not present the same top-ten level test they did when they dominated Notre Dame whistle to whistle at Purcell last season, they still sit at fourth in the ACC standings after some early struggles.

Louisville will enter on a hot streak, having won their last four games. If Notre Dame wins, they’ll provide an important boost to their hopes of a top seed in both the ACC and NCAA tournaments.

The Irish face off against the Cardinals at 7 p.m. EST at Purcell Pavillon on Feb. 16. The game will be available on ESPN.

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About J.J. Post

J.J. Post is a senior in Fisher Hall. Hailing from Mountainside, New Jersey, he's currently working his way towards being the nation's foremost expert on college soccer. Whether via the button below or his overly active Twitter (@JayJayPost), feel free to reach out and talk about Notre Dame soccer, football, basketball, volleyball, baseball or softball. Or any other Notre Dame sport you can think of. Odds are he watches it as well.

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