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.
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