Categories
Sports

Irish fall on buzzer-beater to No. 20 Maryland

Notre Dame women’s basketball dropped an instant classic on Thursday night, falling to Maryland 74-72 at Purcell Pavillion. 

In a game where it felt like the team holding the ball when the buzzer sounded would get the last word, it was Diamond Miller who provided the marquee moment for Maryland. The senior guard got the ball with 15 seconds left and promptly went to work. Eventually, she found her shot, nailing a perfectly timed buzzer-beater to walk the game off for the Terrapins.

Though Miller’s dagger capped the game off, the 39-plus minutes that preceded it lived up to the hype of a top-20 clash. The two teams traded blows from the first tip. Neither side ever led the game by more than eight points.

Sonia Citron led the way for the Irish. The sophomore combo guard continually beat the Maryland defense both in the paint and from deep. Citron finished with a team-high in both points and rebounds, posting 24 and 10, respectively.

Notre Dame was hampered by the limited use of star sophomore point guard Olivia Miles, who was hampered by foul trouble early on and only played 25 minutes. Miles made her impact in the time she was on the court, though. She managed 14 points, including a late and-one layup in transition to give the Irish a brief lead. Miles also registered a game-high seven assists.

With Miles rotating in and out of the lineup, Notre Dame had to turn to other players to hang around. One such player was freshman guard KK Bransford, who played a season-high 26 minutes. And while Bransford didn’t explode off the stat sheet with eight points and a pair of rebounds, the rookie guard looked composed in the biggest game she’s played so far in an Irish uniform.

After the game, Notre Dame head coach Niele Ivey praised Bransford for rising to the occasion with her minutes increased.

“Heading into halftime, I thought we found her,” Ivey said. “She made some big buckets … She really gave us a boost. She’s been growing, every game looking a little bit more confident, looking a little bit more comfortable with what we’re doing. I’m so pleased with what she’s given us — defensively, she’s getting deflections, got one in the backcourt today. I can’t say enough about what she’s given, bringing a great spark off the bench on offense and defense.”

For Maryland, it was the backcourt duo of Miller and Shyanne Sellers that led the way throughout. Sellers’ 10 first-quarter points paced the Terrapins early on. Those 10 points represented over 60% of Maryland’s total scoring in the first frame. But as the Irish keyed in more on Sellers, Miller took over. The senior lit up the stat sheet, with her 31 points and 12 rebounds both representing game highs.

After the game, Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said Miller’s game-breaking performance was simply the type of moment she expects from her senior.

“We knew the ball was going to go to Diamond,” Frese said. “She had the hot hand … And she executed to perfection. That’s what your All-American, your senior [does]. I have so much trust in Diamond, she wants to make those plays in the big moment.”

Sellers said after the game even though the defense likely knew where the game-winning play was going, she still had faith in Miller to find the winner.

“I have a lot of confidence in Diamond,” said Sellers. “Diamond hits that [shot] all the time in practice … Even if you know it’s probably going to Diamond … You have a less than 5% chance of stopping her.”

Categories
Sports

Irish dominate again, head to Goombay Classic

As the Notre Dame women’s basketball team prepares to head to the Bahamas for the Goombay classic, they’re riding high after a dominant 4-0 start. The fourth win came on Sunday afternoon, as the Irish won their third game by 34+ points, dispatching Ball State 95-60. Notre Dame’s closest game to date is a 90-79 victory over Cal, with their other wins coming by 34, 35 and 40 points. Additionally, none of Notre Dame’s opponents have a losing record, combining for a 10-2 record, excluding their games against the Irish. And, perhaps most frightening for upcoming opponents, head coach Niele Ivey said her team is just scratching the surface of their capabilities. 

Irish throttle Cardinals

Sunday’s performance was a dominant one. Notre Dame ran all over the Cardinals for 54 first-half points, opening up a 27-point advantage at the break. Six players scored in double digits, and the Irish more than doubled Ball State in rebounds (50-24), blocks (8-3) and assists (21-10). Sophomore guard Olivia Miles fell three rebounds shy of a triple-double, notching 13 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds. Graduate student guard Dara Mabrey led the scoring effort with 19 points on 5-10 shooting from beyond the arc. Graduate transfer Lauren Ebo added a double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds), freshman guard KK Bransford poured on 16 points and sophomore guard Sonia Citron added 14 points to go with eight boards. Overall, the Irish shot 54.2% from the field. 

The first few minutes were a little rough defensively for the Irish, as Ball State opened up an 11-6 lead. However, triples from Mabrey and Miles eliminated the Cardinals’ advantage. With 3:41 left in the first quarter, Mabrey’s three-pointer, her third of the first quarter, vaulted the Irish to a 17-15 lead, an edge they would not relinquish. It kick-started a 13-3 scoring run to end the quarter, and Notre Dame went into cruise control. They outscored the Cardinals 27-9 in the second quarter to absolutely bury the visitors. The Irish opened the frame on an 11-2 tear, punctuated by two more Mabrey threes. They ended on a 13-1 run, allowing them to double up Ball State, 54-27 at halftime. 

Irish finish Cardinals, eye Bahamas trip

The second half was more of a formality, as the Irish put their finishing touches on a fourth straight game with 88+ points. The 95 points were a season-high, as the Irish have increased their offensive output in every game this season. They’ll look to continue that trend at the Goombay Classic in the Bahamas, where the Irish will play two games.

Notre Dame takes on a winless American University squad on Thanksgiving, and they’ll battle Arizona State in the second game, on either Friday or Saturday. American is sitting at 0-3 with losses by 51, 5 and 14 points. The Sun Devils are unbeaten, but they have not played a Power-5 team. Two of those wins include beating Northern Arizona by one point and New Mexico in overtime. Should the Irish emerge unscathed from the international trip, they’ll enter a massive two-game stretch at 6-0, ready to face a top-20 opponent in Maryland and a top-5 UConn squad on Dec. 1 and 4, respectively.

Contact Aidan Thomas at athoma28@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