Categories
Sports

Olivia Miles rises to occasion against No. 3 UConn

The list of reasons why Notre Dame women’s basketball’s Sunday showdown against UConn meant more than your average non-conference game is far from short.

Perhaps the biggest factor in upping the drama was the No. 3 ranking next to the Huskies’ name. Perhaps it was the historic rivalry between the two programs, even if you took that number away. Or perhaps it was just the need to respond after a heartbreaking buzzer beater put an end to the Irish’s unbeaten start to the season on Thursday.

No matter the reason, in front of a sold out matinee crowd on Sunday, Notre Dame needed a standout performance from their star … And they got one. 

From her first drive at the UConn basket, it was clear sophomore guard Olivia Miles was in the mood to torment the Huskies all afternoon. As the Irish offense slowly worked its way into gear in the first quarter, it was Miles who led the charge. The sophomore had 13 of Notre Dame’s first 18 points, as well as an assist on graduate guard Dara Mabrey’s three point effort with 20 seconds left.

After that first quarter, the rest of the Irish offense worked its way into the game to give Miles some aid, but the sophomore didn’t slow down. With 21 points, eight rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block, it’s difficult to find a spot on the stats sheet that Miles didn’t lead or come close to leading the Irish.

Unsurprisingly, after the game Irish head coach Niele Ivey was bursting with praise for her point guard.

“[She has] an elite skill set,” Ivey said. “Not only is she a scoring-first point guard, she’s a pass-first point guard that can score. I think her vision is elite, especially in the open court. I think she is one of the most dynamic guards in our game. She is always playing for her teammates and that’s what I love about her. She plays for them, she’ll run through a wall for me, she’s extremely coachable. I think the skies are the limit for her. She’s just scratching the surface.”

The dynamic, on-ball element to Miles’ game has made her one of the most electrifying players in the sport over the course of her short time in South Bend. Displaying an impressive ability to generate offensive surges from just about anywhere on the court, Miles is a nightmare to guard. 

She’s able to attack the rim and finish over taller interior defenders with one of her trademark extension finishes. She can create space with ease from the midrange and deep and pick her spot with a jump shot. There are few guards in women’s college basketball who have as well-rounded of a skill set — a skill set that has her rocketing up WNBA draft boards.

After the game, junior forward Maddy Westbeld, who had 17 points of her own in the win, said Miles’ ability to attack defenses has created opportunities for the rest of the team to thrive.

“She’s unstoppable at dribbling,” Westbeld said. “Nobody can guard her. And especially when she’s that aggressive coming out of the gate, people are all crashing into the paint and it opens up everybody else. It opens up the rest of the floor when she’s that aggressive.”

While the most difficult part of Notre Dame’s non-conference slate has now past (the Irish have dates with just Lafayette, Merrimack College and Western Michigan standing between them and ACC play), Notre Dame will need Miles to be at her best come New Year’s as the team gears up for a potential conference title charge. 

Returning four starters from a team that finished third in the conference, the Irish have a real shot to bring home their first conference championship since 2019. But if Notre Dame does add another year to their conference title banner in Purcell come March, it will almost certainly be Miles leading the way.

Contact Olivia J.J. Post at jpost2@nd.edu.

Categories
Sports

Irish bring on four transfers, hoping for successful season

The Notre Dame women’s basketball team is locking in as they prepare for out-of-conference play to start next month. Their season opens on Nov. 7 versus Northern Illinois. 

Notre Dame’s season was cut short last year in a heartbreaking Sweet Sixteen loss to NC State. This season, the team is determined to build upon their performance. Head Coach Niele Ivey spoke about how last year’s loss is motivating the team this season.

“It’s something that’s always gonna be in the back of their heads. It gives them a chip on their shoulder. They know how good they can be, they showed it last year, so it’s about raising that standard, raising that expectation every day.”

The players themselves help their teammates meet these high expectations by holding each other accountable as well as cheering each other on. Players frequently exchange high fives during practice, but they don’t hesitate to offer criticism either. Sophomore guard Sonia Citron spoke about the importance of this practice. 

“I’ll get on my teammates if they’re not working hard, just like they’ll get on me, and its not personal, it’s just what we have to do to get better.” 

The Irish lost to NC State in the Sweet Sixteen by only three points, one of six losses last year that the Irish lost by five or fewer points. In such close games, effort and discipline are often the difference maker. As they prepare for this season, Notre Dame is focusing on limiting mistakes in order to win those close games.

“Every single practice we work on attention to detail and not making those silly little errors that can cost us that game,” Citron said.

Coach Ivey and the rest of the Notre Dame coaching staff also help their players emphasize these details frequently during practices, reminding players to sprint at full speed or “finish the first one” when a player misses a layup. This type of attention to detail in practice will help the Irish convert narrow losses into wins this season. 

Incoming recruits will be crucial to Notre Dame’s success this year. The Irish lost five of last year’s players, including four who transferred to other programs. The team is filling their places with four new recruits.

Guard KK Bransford from Cincinnati, OH, the only freshman joining the team, earned Ms. Ohio Basketball the past two years and is the seventh-ranked guard in her class. She has transitioned well to college so far, competing against older girls in practice and playing great man defense.

Citron spoke highly of Bransford’s abilities.

“Even though she’s so young she is so talented,” Citron said.

Along with Bransford, three transfer students are joining the Irish. Graduate transfer guard Jenna Brown joins the Irish from Stanford, where she won a national championship in 2021.

Coach Ivey believes that “playing with that championship caliber helps.”

Brown’s presence on the team brings experience to a team of young players. Brown underwent knee surgery two seasons ago and is currently practicing in a brace; however, she is moving well on the court and is expected to be a useful addition to the Notre Dame squad.

Fellow graduate transfer Lauren Ebo, a center from the University of Texas, earned Big 12 All-Tournament Team and All-Big 12 Honorable Mention accolades last year. Tall and strong, Ebo can score and rebound at will from the post. Her size gives the Irish an advantage, both because she is difficult to guard and also because her teammates are able to practice against a tougher opponent than they will usually face in games. Along with dominating on the court, Ebo is also a vocal leader both in practice and in the locker room. Coach Ivey said she can rely on Ebo to use her voice and experience to help her teammates.

Ebo also plays well with junior forward Kylee Watson, who joins the Irish from Oregon. Watson, who led the Ducks in shooting percentage last year, says she loves “being on the floor when Ebo just can go to work.” 

This type of positive team dynamic will be important to Notre Dame’s success this year. Culture is essential to any successful program, but especially one where four out of nine scholarship players are brand new to the program. Watson said that the smaller roster has actually helped the team bond. 

“It’s so much easier to build chemistry when you have a smaller roster … hanging out outside of basketball and just being close, obviously that plays a role in how much we trust each other and want to play for each other.” 

The positive team culture is obvious as you watch the Irish joke around while stretching and as they exchange personalized handshakes before the start of practice. The team looks cohesive and disciplined, and they’re having fun on the court. This is a Notre Dame team that is prepared to take the Irish to another Final Four.

Contact Sammie McCarthy at smccart9@nd.edu