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ND Women’s Basketball

Irish shut down Panthers in second-biggest blowout of the season

| Monday, February 20, 2023

Over the last few weeks, Notre Dame women’s basketball has mostly done what they have all season: win. But ever since graduate student guard Dara Mabrey’s career-ending ACL injury on Jan. 22, they have not quite looked like the same team. Upset losses to North Carolina State and Duke. Nail-biting victories against teams in the bottom half of the ACC standings like Pittsburgh and Syracuse. Yes, it’s important to learn how to win in close games. Those are the types of games this Irish team should find themselves in if they meet expectations of a deep NCAA Tournament run. But it is also important to take care of business against inferior teams.

For example, scoring nearly as many points in the first half as you allow against the worst team in the conference. That was the type of convincing victory the Irish needed. And it is the victory they earned on Sunday afternoon, trouncing Pitt on the road by a final score of 83-43. That 40-point margin of victory is the second largest of Notre Dame’s season. Only their 108-44 victory against Merrimack College on Dec. 10 was a bigger blowout.

It is not a coincidence that one of Notre Dame’s best games of 2023 coincided almost perfectly with the return of graduate student center Lauren Ebo. Ebo officially returned from injury after missing five games on Jan. 16 against Louisville, but played just five minutes. Her usage climbed a little bit more on Sunday. But just as importantly, Ebo delivered one of her most efficient games of the season. She scored 10 points in 12 minutes on 3-5 shooting while collecting six rebounds.

The Irish played a very balanced, teamwork-heavy game on both ends of the floor. All nine Irish players who played for at least five minutes registered between five and 13 points. Sophomore guard Sonia Citron and junior forward Maddy Westbeld paced the Irish with 13 points each. Sophomore guard Olivia Miles had a rare tough day from the field, shooting just 3-13 and missing five of her six three-point tries. However, she still contributed, leading the Irish with 11 rebounds and five assists.

Ultimately, defense led the day for the Irish. While Pitt has the third-worst scoring offense in the ACC, the Irish held the Panthers to their second-lowest point total of the season. The Panthers shot a putrid 28% and were -20 in points scored off turnovers. All 10 Panthers who played at least seven minutes finished with a plus/minus rating of -10 or worse. After taking an early 6-5 lead just over three minutes in, the Irish went on a 19-2 run to end the first quarter. Over the final 16 minutes of the quarter, Pitt scored just 10 points. Ebo’s return helped Notre Dame bully Pittsburgh on the glass, out-rebounding the Panthers 48-26 and tallying 16 second-chance points to Pitt’s three.

The rout allowed head coach Niele Ivey to give some of her top players time off. All four of Notre Dame’s leading scorers played below their season average in minutes — in some cases, well below. That should help set the Irish up well for their pivotal final two games of the regular season. The Irish are currently tied with Duke atop the ACC with a 13-3 record in conference play. Notre Dame has a mixed schedule to end the season — a home match against struggling Georgia Tech and a pivotal clash at Louisville, the conference’s fourth-best team, just 10 days after their epic overtime match last Thursday.

The defining moments of Notre Dame’s season will almost certainly happen after those games. But the Irish can create an easier path through the ACC and NCAA Tournament if they can edge out Duke for the regular season crown. Thanks to Notre Dame’s first blowout win in weeks — both from a rest and a confidence standpoint — that path became a little bit easier.

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About Andrew McGuinness

Andrew McGuinness is a senior in Siegfried Hall and Sports Editor of The Observer. He is from Haddonfield, New Jersey, and loves all of his Philly sports teams, even if they don't always love him back. Reach out below or on Twitter (@_AndrewMcG) to talk sports or TV shows, especially if they're Stranger Things, Survivor, Abbott Elementary or/and Severance.

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