After a blowout loss to South Carolina in the season opener, Notre Dame women's basketball needed a statement win to prove themselves. They got that on Wednesday. In the inaugural ACC/SEC challenge, Niele Ivey's team came back from a 16-point deficit to give the Irish a quality win against a ranked opponent.
Missing junior guards Sonia Citron and Olivia Miles and freshman guard Cassandre Prosper, Notre Dame needed to rely on freshman guard Hannah Hidalgo and the veterans. That didn't work out initially. For the majority of the game, Tennessee played a zone defense. So far, this season, Notre Dame hasn't seen much of the zone. Tennessee filled the lane and doubled coverage to limit Hidalgo's ability to dribble. She ended the game with 13 points off of 5/17 shooting.
With Hidalgo having an off night, one would think Notre Dame would resort to graduate student guard Anna DeWolfe and the three-ball. That didn't work either. The Irish did not make a single three-point shot, representing the first time that Ivey had won a game without her team making a three-point shot. Notre Dame missed all nine of its opportunities.
Instead, Notre Dame relied on its post players. Senior forward Maddy Westbeld ended with a double-double, including 3 offensive rebounds and 15 points. Senior forward Natalija Marshall and sophomore guard KK Bransford contributed to the frontcourt success as well. The duo added 15 and 12 points, respectively.
In her postgame process, head coach Niele Ivey was thrilled with how her team fought back in the fourth quarter:
“We’ve been hit with a lot of adversity,” she said, “and the way we responded and fought to pull that victory out on the road is just tremendous for us.”
Ivey highlighted that with Hidalgo receiving extra attention, she decided to turn to the post. She played a big three lineup to help inside. Still, the posts did not take great shots, instead taking too many low-efficiency two-point shots near the free throw line. The Irish felt their trademark luck though. Collectively, Westbeld, Marshall and Bransford ended the game shooting 45% from the field.
With a win in hand, the team heads back to South Bend to face Lafayette before an 11-day break for final exams. Then, Notre Dame has two home games against unranked Purdue and Western Michigan before breaking for the holidays. Wednesday's win represents a bold win that should propel the team forward as they wrap up the non-conference slate.
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